Jets and Moon Rockets: 1957-1970

Hughes Aircraft Co. ... Satellites and Surveyors

Howard Hughes formed the Hughes Aircraft Co. in 1935 as a completely separate venture from the Hughes Tool Co. In 1953, the Hughes Aircraft Co., by then owned by Howard Hughes Medical Institute, was established as a manufacturer of missiles and electronics and renamed the Hughes Electronics Corp. Its subsidiary company was Hughes Space & Communications.

In January 1961, NASA awarded Hughes Space & Communications the contract to build the Surveyor to achieve the first fully controlled soft landing on the moon. The first of seven successfully landed on the moon June 1, 1966. By using rockets to rise 12 feet above the surface, Surveyor 6 also proved that a spacecraft could lift off from the moon. The Surveyors transmitted close-up photographs of the moon's surface to prepare for the Apollo lunar landings.

At the same time, Hughes Space & Communications started to develop the world's first geosynchronous communications satellite -- Syncom (Synchronous Communications Satellite). The 86-pound satellite was first launched by a Douglas Delta July 26, 1963. A second was launched for the U.S. Department of Defense in 1964.

The Hughes Intelsat family of communications satellites followed Syncom into orbit. The first of these, the 85-pound Intelsat 1 (Early Bird), was launched April 6, 1965. By the 1970s, the Intelsats 4 and 4A weighed more than 1,500 pounds and would lead to the successful HS-376 family of communications satellites.

Hughes Space and Communications also built the Applications Technology Satellite (ATS) spacecraft for NASA. Launched between 1966 and 1969, they carried instruments that conducted experiments in communications, meteorology, satellite stabilization and the space environment. The ATS series included the first geosynchronous weather satellite. From 2,000 miles above the Earth, an ATS satellite produced the first color picture showing a full-disk view of the globe and a picture of the shadow of the total eclipse of the sun as it moved across the United States.

A special spin-scan cloud camera was developed for the program by the Hughes Santa Barbara, Calif., research center, which developed the sensing instruments for the entire first generation of U.S. geosynchronous weather satellites. ATS-1 had an immediate effect on meteorology. Forecasters could see weather patterns developing thousands of miles off the coast of the United States. ATS-1 and ATS-3 also became the world's longest operating communications satellites, each spending more than 25 years in orbit.

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