20 July 2009

First Steps on the Moon, First Global Broadcast

Forty years ago, the Apollo 11 crew blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center on what would be, and is still considered by many, humankind’s most monumental space milestone. The Moon Landing Mission was broadcast live via Intelsat’s network, relatively new at the time, from 02:56 – 05:17 GMT on 21 July 1969 – the world’s first globally broadcast program.

Intelsat had only a
few years earlier inaugurated the commercial satellite communications industry. Early Bird—the Intelsat I satellite—was launched on 6 April 1965. The Intelsat II satellites were built primarily to serve the communications requirements for NASA’s Apollo missions, although they provided other commercial services as well. When the Intelsat III satellites were being launched in the late 1960s, we already had satellites over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In mid-1969 we decided to move the Intelsat III F-3 satellite (The “F” in F-3 is “flight” three—the third in the series) over the Indian Ocean, which was the first time a commercial satellite would cover that region. That satellite went into service on 15 July 1969, just in time to be instrumental in sharing the Moon Landing with the world a few days later.

With all ocean regions covered from 36,000 kilometers above the Earth’s equator, we were poised to carry the world’s first globally broadcast television program—the Apollo 11 Moon Landing Mission. On 21 July 1969, the Eagle Lunar Lander transmitted its signals from the surface of the Moon to the Parkes Earth Station in southern Australia. Parkes relayed the signals to Moree Earth Station in eastern Australia, which forwarded the transmission to an Intelsat III satellite over the Pacific Ocean.

The live broadcast was transmitted to the world via two Intelsat III satellites, one Intelsat II satellite, and Early Bird was brought back into service for the event to carry the broadcast from the West Coast in North America to South America. The Moon Landing broadcast reached hundreds of millions of captivated viewers on six continents and would become the first of a now very long litany of global broadcasts provided throughout the last nearly 45 years via Intelsat.