Good afternoon everyone.
The object resembling a ball-bearing in the photo above is ECHO-1a, America’s first passive communication satellite and the first half of the ECHO experiment. It was a rather large (100 feet in diameter) metalized 0.5 mil Mylar balloon. ECHO-1 was to be used to bounce microwaves from one point on the ground to another, but the Delta rocket it was riding on second stage went wonky (scientist-speak for “Hey! It’s not supposed to go in that direction!”) and the range officer blew it up. This was in 1960 and the rockets that were used at the time by the US space program tended to behave more like fireworks than lift vehicles, and range officers had a lot more to do then than they do now. So the first ECHO satellite that made it to low earth orbit was ECHO-1a launched on a Thor-Delta in mid-May, 1960. On August 12 of that year, JPL in Pasedena pinged Bell Labs in Homdel (that’s in New Jersey, evidently) with a microwave signal, and there was much rejoicing.
The military used the satellite to provide astronomical reference points in order to accurately drop nukes on Moscow if the occasion arose, at least once they had a ballistic missile that would actually get there.
During ground testing, it required 40,000 pounds of air to fill the 150 pound ECHO-1 according to NASA, which sounds like an awful lot of weight to me. I could work out the calculations, but the Emmas are pissed at me right now for saying something insensitive (again) and are off at the test range blowing things up, and I don’t feel like wasting my time. I’m just happy that they’re finally getting their anger issues somewhat under control. It was getting tiresome (and expensive) rebuilding my office once or twice a month due to real or imagined slights on my part. And they wonder why I don’t spend much time at the labs anymore…
Anyway, it evidently took a shitload of air to inflate the things on the ground, but only a few pounds up in LEO. NASA also took into account the fact that the balloon would be frequently holed by micrometeorites and drifting bits of exploded American rockets, so they had an onboard system that consisted of sublimating chemicals to keep the balloon inflated. It worked fairly well too, as ECHO-1a remained in orbit and usable until it finally de-orbited on May 24, 1968, and astronomers around the world cheered because the damned overly bright piece of junk wouldn’t interfere with their observations any longer.