Communications Satellite, Echo 1

Launched in 1960, Echo 1 served as one of the first attempts to assess requirements and techniques for conducting communications via space. The satellite was a remarkably simple device: A reflective sphere 30 meters (100 feet) in diameter. Serving as a "mirror" in space, signals directed at the satellite from one location on Earth reflected back down to another location. By the time Echo 2 launched in 1964, other types of communications satellites had proven superior, and researchers used the Echos primarily for scientific experiments.

Echo satellites posed a unique technical challenge. They were essentially balloons sent into orbit folded flat and then inflated in space. Inflation had to proceed carefully to ensure the integrity of the satellite's surface.

This artifact is a flight spare folded in its launch canister, transferred from NASA to the Museum in 1979. Next to it is a final-stage rocket for carrying the satellite to its orbit.