The United States launched its first man-made satellite, Explorer 1, in February 1958. This and other early satellites collected data while orbiting Earth. In the summer of 1960, with the launch of Echo 1, the US began exploring the concept of communications via space. Echo 1, essentially a large reflective balloon, reflected radio waves directed at it from one location on Earth to another location, thereby transmitting messages. The successful launch of a communication satellite established practical applications for NASA’s discoveries and provided justification for continued space exploration.
On December 15, 1960, the Post Office Department issued an Echo I satellite commemorative postage stamp. The stamp shows the balloon-like satellite in orbit over Earth. Two columns of lines radiate from the satellite to the earth representing messages sent by humans worldwide.
At the issuance ceremony, Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield honored the global communication system inaugurated with the launch of Echo I. He stated, “a fragile balloon with aluminum coated plastic walls about one half the thickness of the wrapping on a package of cigarettes, was hurled into space, released and inflated, and began orbiting the earth at a height of 1,000 miles.” Summerfield referenced the history of man’s changing methods of communication: “cavemen drew images on rock; a foot soldier delivers a message from Marathon to Athens; and the Pony Express transported letters across a continent. The Echo 1 satellite expanded human communication into space.”