How a satellite called Syncom changed the world—by Ralph Vartabedian from the Los Angeles Times July 26, 2013 Reprinted with permission

A friend told him about Rosen. Rubel remembered, “He had this thing that weighed 55 pounds and it was immediately obvious to me that this was it, the solution to all of our problems.”

He arranged a deal to allow NASA to fund the launch. The first attempt in early 1963 failed because of a rocket malfunction. But the second launch was successful.

Test signals to a Navy ship docked in Lagos, Nigeria, confirmed the satellite was working. In a later check of the system, Rosen handed the telephone to his wife, Rosetta, and a sergeant on the other end said hello. She dropped the phone and said, “My God, Harold, it works.”

Rosen said he never doubted it would work. “We had overcome all these hurdles — all these political hurdles more than technical hurdles — and the way was clear,” he said.

With Syncom, Hughes not only had beaten out every other corporation in a landmark achievement, but it also had started a technological revolution.

“We very quickly could feel that we had the world by the tail,” said Robert Roney, 90, the Hughes research director who had hired Rosen. “We were way ahead of the curve. All of us felt like we were the luckiest people alive.”

Albert Wheelon, who would later become chief of the Hughes satellite business, was at the time deputy director of the CIA. He remembered reading about the Syncom launch in a newspaper.

“I said this is really important for what we are doing at the agency,” he said. “Instead of putting these listening posts around the Soviet Union, we could put one of these things up in the sky and listen to everything.”

Secret work for intelligence agencies later became a big part of Hughes business.

One day a few years after the Syncom success, Williams visited Rosen with something on his mind. He apologized for not including Rosen’s name on the patent for the rocket control system. Rosen insisted no apology was necessary. (Rosen would eventually have his name on more than 50 patents, including the basic patent for Syncom.)

Later that day, Williams went home and killed himself. He was 34. The third engineer on the team, Hudspeth, died in 2008 at the age of 89.

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About Jack Fisher

Jack was a systems engineer at Hughes from 1961 to 1992. He contributed to various programs including Surveyor, Pioneer Venus, Galileo, Intelsat VI and innumerable proposals. He was the manager of of the Spacecraft Systems Engineering Lab until his retirement. Upon retirement Jack taught systems engineering at a number of national and international venues.