Nearly 62 years ago, a top-secret space satellite mission named Project SCORE (Signal Communication by Orbiting Relay Equipment) launched from Cape Canaveral, FL.
Communication equipment was housed inside the satellite onboard a US Airforce Atlas 10B rocket.
This rocket, designed for launching an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile), could also achieve Earth orbit.
The satellite weighed roughly 150 pounds.
It was to become America’s first Earth-orbiting communications satellite.
The purpose of Project SCORE, according to NASA, was to demonstrate the feasibility of, and explore problems associated with the operation of a space-based satellite communication system.
The first working test of an Earth-orbiting communications satellite relay system was officially named SCORE and nicknamed the “talking atlas.”
Project SCORE also marked the first time an Atlas rocket was used as a satellite space launch vehicle.
As far as the public and those without special security clearance, the Project SCORE Atlas 10B rocket launch was just another missile test.
There was extreme secrecy throughout the project regarding the operation and the specific course planned for the satellite. Only 35 people in the entire country knew the details.
I learned the person who pushed the Atlas rocket’s lift-off firing button did not even know the exact course it would take.
At the time of the Atlas launch, it had only been 14 months since the Soviet Union placed its now-famous Sputnik 1 satellite in orbit around the world, with its continuous radio signals of “beep-beep-beep-beep” transmitted towards our planet.
With Sputnik 1 orbiting over the people on Earth, many folks here in the US were frightened the Soviets might arm their future Earth-orbiting space satellites with nuclear warheads.
You can listen to one minute of the 1957 radio signal beeps transmitted from the Sputnik 1 satellite at https://bit.ly/3pQHpHV.
Project SCORE was an attempt by the United States to put it on an even playing field with the Soviet Union in light of Sputnik’s success.
Americans wanted the US to have an Earth-orbiting space satellite as soon as possible.
The Atlas rocket, carrying the secret US satellite, was launched from Cape Canaveral, FL Dec. 18, 1958.
Four-and-a-half minutes after lift-off, the 85-foot 8,800-pound rocket with its satellite payload reached a speed of 17,000 mph as it maneuvered into Earth orbit via its internal guidance system.
The satellite had two special devices onboard.
They were a pair of tape recorders, each with a four-minute recording capacity. Both provided safeguard-redundancy: one recorder acted as the primary unit, and the other as a backup unit.
These recorders in the satellite were able to receive and record radio messages and transmit them to radio-receiving ground stations on Earth.
There was one special voice message carried by the recorders.
The satellite’s onboard backup recorder turned out to be a good thing to have installed, because the primary recorder failed while in Earth orbit.
Fortunately, the backup recorder worked and was used to transmit a special holiday greeting to the world.
Dec. 19, 1958, America learned of, and heard a surprise radio message from space, originating from the first US communications satellite in orbit over the Earth.
The message came from President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
His was the first human voice ever transmitted through space.
“This is the President of the United States speaking. Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you via a satellite circling in outer space. My message is a simple one: Through this unique means I convey to you and all mankind, America’s wish for peace on Earth and goodwill to men everywhere,” President Eisenhower said.
Using shortwave radios, people worldwide heard President Eisenhower’s audio message transmitted from the space satellite.
Television and conventional radio also shared Eisenhower’s voice from space.
In addition to Eisenhower’s message, the SCORE satellite successfully relayed real-time voice and teletype communication messages received from a location on Earth through the upper atmosphere.
After receiving the messages, the satellite would transmit them back down to a specific ground station.
The satellite continued its 115-mile-high orbit of the Earth; however, the batteries onboard would last only 12 days.
Jan. 21, 1959, the SCORE satellite’s orbit began to decay and ended with it burning up while entering the upper Earth’s atmosphere.
A crucial technological milestone had been achieved with Project SCORE and paved the way for the next generation of communication satellites.
A video of the Atlas 10B rocket satellite launch, along with the voice recording of President Eisenhower’s holiday message to the world is stored in the Internet Archive at http://tinyurl.com/bytes-score.
You can see the official Dec. 19, 1958, White House press release of President Eisenhower’s message from space at https://bit.ly/39jOwmv.
Stay safe out there.