Anniversary: 50 Years Separate Echo and iPad Apps

THURSDAY, AUGUST 12: If you’ve ever wondered where the technology for GPS, satellite radio and the iPad all began, look into a little something known as Echo; it was just 50 years ago, today, that NASA launched Echo, its first communications satellite. Although Sputnik 1 functioned as the first artificial satellite, Project Echo was NASA’s first passive communications satellite experiment. (NASA and Wikipedia have details.) The translation? Project Echo was a balloon satellite that reflected telephone, radio and television signals, and bounced the signals between different points on Earth. Echo 1 burned up in 1968, but it nevertheless made a deep imprint on communications history.

Is religion involved here too, though, you ask? You bet.

Ironically, the suggestion for geostationary satellites as ideal telecommunications relays began with a science fiction author and inventor. Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, author of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” published his idea in writing in the October 1945 edition of “Wireless World.” (Wikipedia has more, as does the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation.) Themes of religion and spirituality are abundant in Clarke’s writing, although his personal feelings toward the subject varied during his lifetime. Clarke’s indecisive religious views didn’t affect the future use of his technological idea by churches, though! Today, iPhone apps are well-versed in religion and faith: Catholics can pray a digital rosary, Muslims can calculate the times for their five daily prayers, Jews can email prayers to Jerusalem and have them placed into cracks in the Western Wall and Buddhists can shake their phones to spin a prayer wheel.

The uses of communications satellites for religion don’t stop with apps, though: GPS users can find a nearest house of worship or even a kosher restaurant. Churchgoers who live in remote areas can save a drive and “attend” Mass by viewing a podcast. (Reuters recently published a related article.)

(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)

(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)

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