|A most amazing person was referred to me by Cullen Moore. Cullen and I had been looking at Telstar solar cells, and before he left, he told me there was someone I should meet. That person he was talking about was A.C. Dickieson, who had been the project manager for Telstar at the Bell Laboratories. The following is a transcript of a few of the topics that A.C. Dickieson and I talked about.
A. C. Dickieson (right)
and Ed Sharpe holding the copy of the
TD-2 STORY that Mr. Dickieson presented to the museum.
Sharpe - Tell me about this award from the Air Force... It says that both you and John Pierce are "Aerospace Men Of The Year" in 1962.
Dickieson - The convention was out at Las Vegas, and President Kennedy presented these things to us over Telstar from Washington... It was a live broadcast from the white house to the convention and he pronounced our names correctly!
The Air Force Assoc. decided that year that TELSTAR was the event of the year! There were others there getting awards for various other things as well. Bob Hope was on stage handing out the awards physically and I considered him more amazing than Telstar! He had a teleprompter in front of him and rattled off all these strange names of people, he could rattle them all off correctly, I stood there and watched him. I was amazed!
Sharpe - This book you have here titled "75 Years In A Wonderful Life" is by Harald Friis?
Dickieson - Harald Friis, yes, he was the head of the radio research operations at Holmedel. He retired in 1958 and worked for Hewlett Packard. He was a very good friend of David Packard.
Sharpe - Yes, Barney Oliver started at Bell Labs and went to Hewlett Packard also.
Dickieson - Barny Oliver was one of his guys.
Sharpe - Yes, Oliver had received some patents while at Bell Laboratories, one of which dealt with triple and quad Darlington configurations.
Tell me more about Harald Friis please!
Dickieson - He was a wonderful man, he was the daddy of all these radio research guys at Holmdel, he always seemed like an uncle to all of us. We all went and sat at his feet!
Sharpe - He was very knowledgeable then?
Dickieson - Yes, and very wise and he was the inspiration to all of his people. He was one of these people that would stand back and let everyone else take all of the credit.
Sharpe - A very modest person?
Dickieson - Yes; very modest, very wise and it was a regular ritual! The laboratory was out in the field, kind of separate and we would all brown bag it for lunch in Harold Friisís office. We would sit around the table and talk, we would talk shop. Harald would say how about going in that direction... He would always point you in the right direction, great guy! All of us that knew him, just loved him! They called him "Papa Friis".
Sharpe - Is he still alive now?
Dickieson - No he died some years ago...
He must have died 10 to 12 years ago. He was older than the rest of us. Now let me show you this history of Telstar....
**A.C. Dickieson hands me a thick book to examine.**
Sharpe - Telstar The Management story!
Dickieson - Itís not small! Well, the technical story was in all of the technical journals, this is the management story. I was the project manager!
Sharpe - I see here it is referred to as the TSX-1.
Dickieson - Yes that is what we were going to call it the TS line like the names we had for TD-2 and such...
Sharpe - Did you know that it was the earliest spacecraft to have a song composed about it?
Dickieson - No I did not know about that!
Sharpe - Well, you would have had to be listening to rock and roll back in the early 60ís to hear it though!
Dickieson - (a chuckle!)
Sharpe - It was a very interesting instrumental that had many Ďspace ageí type of sounds in it!
Dickieson - There were actually a dozen stamps in various countries that commemorated it...
Sharpe - Yes! I had a few of them, although At this time I do not remember which countries they were from.
Dickieson - How old were you ?
Sharpe - Not very old, but I was very much a follower of the program and by third grade my interest in electronics and communications was obsessive! I canít tell you how exciting it is for me to sit here and discuss this with you this evening!
Dickieson - In this book I tried to tell the story of how it went and I discovered that it was so hard to lay my hands on the memorandums and what not, even in our own company that I quoted them in full. The first part deals with the Washington scene.
Sharpe - You had to apply to the FCC for a frequency allocation didnít you?
Dickieson - It was worse than that! Actually the FCC around this time had talked about allocating frequencies for non-common carrier radio relay, and our company was fighting them vigorously! The first frequencies that our company proposed using were in the non-common carrier band, by no accident! But when I got to be project manager and was told there was a date, I realized that until we settled the frequency question we couldnít decide anything!
Sharpe - Certainly, you have to design the transmitter, receiver and the telemetry around the frequency!
Dickieson - The frequency question cost us a hell of a lot of time.
Sharpe - How much time would you say it was?
Dickieson - Well everything went in parallel, the argument in Washington went on during the time we were designing! We were doing our best to guess which way it was going to jump!
We had partners in Europe, as we had to make it trans-Atlantic. So I went over with a group to talk to the French and the English about being partners with us and the frequency question came up early. They both said politically they had to stay in the common carrier band, they saw the same problem that we had! It would take forever to get a decision, so when I came back and I said to our manager that it has to be in the common carrier band... please get off that kick! Which they did! It went into the common carrier... 4 to 6.
Sharpe - 4 Gigahertz?
Dickieson - Yes, 4 Gigahertz up and 6 Gigahertz down.
When Project Relay came along, RCA built a satellite and they were kind of in a bind as to what frequencies to use.
Sharpe - RCA built the RELAY?
Dickieson - Yes RCA designed and built It. They were the prime contractor. NASA had a problem too, they couldnít casually use the common carrier band, as they were not exactly common carriers! And yet it was apparent also that they werenít going to get a ground station. They went to Europe and at first to England, and the British had already agreed with us to build a ground station to work with our satellite. They werenít about to build a second one for anybody! NASA at first thought they would build a ground station in England. They couldnít compete with the British Post Office, no way! It was apparent we had to use the same ground stations. They transmitted up at 17 to 18 and they had to use the 6 gigs coming down to our ground station.
Sharpe - 17 to 18 gigs going up? Wow! That was high at that time wasnít it?
Dickieson -No! 1700 instead of 4000.
Sharpe - Oh.. Ah Ha! 1.7 Gigahertz!
Dickieson - One of our people came up with the idea that in the RELAY satellite they should used a tripler, so that then it would land near our frequency...
Sharpe - What were they using for a tripler at that time?
Dickieson - Something they overloaded probably and picked the third harmonic! This way, at our ground station, we could use the same receiver for both satellites. They supplied a transmitter at their frequency to our station in Andover and in England and in France, so both TELSTAR and RELAY could use the same stations and the same land lines..
Sharpe - So RELAY came after TELSTAR?
Dickieson - Yes, we beat them!
Sharpe- The historical significance of TELSTAR was that it was the first active television satellite, correct?
Dickieson - Yes! There was Courier, but it had a taped message.
It was sort of a stunt it did not stay working long. It really did nothing to advance the art to any extent. Telstar demonstrated the feasibility of repeater, one way. It was just like other relay systems (chuckle!), but with a lot more loss of course! It demonstrated the feasibility of having electronics in space, that you could feed power to from the solar cells, and that it worked like any other radio relay.
Sharpe - These Solar Cells here? (I whip out a handful of K.D. Smith archived Telstar solar cells out of a box to show A.C. Dickieson)
Dickieson - Yes, thatís what they look like!
***There was a brief interlude as we passed solar cells back and forth! We put the cells in and out of the test fixture and discussed how these cells were ones that were from the TELSTAR batch, but alas, had not passed final test for various reasons, so therefore remained earth bound! A.C Dickieson also recognized the early Bell Solar Batteries that were used at the test in Americus, Georgia on a short haul
wire P1 carrier system. We also looked at some pictures of Brattain, Bardeen and Shockley. A.C. Dickieson remarked that although he was outside the device development area, he had always thought that John Bardeen was really the brains behind the invention of the point contact transistor.
A.C. Dickieson was quite surprised at the artifacts and memorandums that K.D had saved. He noted that he had not managed to save much from the old days. ***
Dickieson - They were learning a lot about making those things at the time (As he pointed at the solar cells). The radiation thing, we were really guessing about it at that time.
Sharpe - I can remember when they would get the pictures on TV when I was a child that would say ĎLIVE VIA SATELLITEí. I would go screaming up to my father... Look! they are getting more pictures over the satellite!
Dickieson - (As he looks at the telstar pictures from the Bell Laboratories RECORD magazine I brought over.)
These were the three principal British operators. That was a tragic story, really, the British had been doing quite a bit of thinking on satellite communication for quite a while. When I went over there hat in hand to talk to them about their involvement in our project, this group was fairly well ahead in thinking about it. They were waiting for someone to put up a satellite!
Sharpe - Of course, they did not have any launch capability!
Dickieson - No none at all! They agreed very rapidly! We spent 4 days going over all of the details and in the end we shook hands and they went ahead!
Then I went over to Paris and the French and Germans had thrown in their lot together and would build only one station in France. This was in the DeGaul era, and there was cut-throat competition between the English and the French. The French agreed as soon as they heard the British were coming in! The only way they could catch up was to ask us to build the ground station which they did. We built the ground station for them, it was a copy of ours. The French were far behind, as they had to start from scratch where the British were well along with planning and contracting.
There was always question about polarization. It was a circular polarized wave we sent back. They (the British) had it wrong. We were worried about it as well, but we had built a second satellite and mounted it 5 miles away and pointed it and made sure we were going the right way. The French of course, well we had a man in direct telephone communication with them, and they were looking right down the throat of the horn, so if we had it right they would have it right. The British though had a circular dish and their feed was a big thing mounted up in this thing about 8 feet long. Apparently they didnít draw us into it, I donít know if we would have been any help. Anyway they made a decision about a week before the launch and they made the wrong one! The French picked up Telstar right away! By the next day the British had it though, they had to have a big cherry picker to get up there to change things. It was a terrible blow to those 3 men.
Sharpe - I had heard something that the French not only received it first, but didnít they send something first as well?
Dickieson - The next day they, (the French) had a professional, very famous crooner, you know a singer, and got a lot of publicity, and the British had a live program of those three men you have in that picture there. They just sat there just talking as Britishers do! It didnít have much impact, so the French scooped them on that completely! So the French not only received first, but sent "real television" first and the British were very unhappy!!
I will tell you how bad it was. I told you we went over there to agree with them on the frequencies? So we went over with the a plan, the British had a better one so we accepted it. Then we went over to Paris to sell it to the French, and I could tell by the atmosphere, that if I had said that it was a British plan, I would have had all kinds of trouble! So I made out that it was a American British plan and we put that aside and talked about the technical merit and they accepted it. But when the British found out that I hadnít given them full credit, they were as mad as hell! They never forgave me for that! (a chuckle!)
Sharpe - How long did Telstar stay up and function?
Dickieson - Well it had a clock to turn itself off after 2 years. We actually worked with it for about a year I would say, maybe a year and a half. We were running out of gas, we were running out of experiments to do with it!
Sharpe - At what point did you have the command channel problems that I have heard about?!
Dickieson - Well, we had that in only a manner of a few months.
We all blamed it on the fact, that only a week before we launched the thing, the military had a high altitude nuclear test. The best we could learn is that it filled up the van Allen belt with more radiation! It was much more than had been recorded for the van Allen Belt.
Sharpe - Sure, with the Explorer you had gotten decay rates on the solar cells from that.
Dickieson - Walter Brown was the principle guy on the measurement of that. He designed the measuring equipment on-board Telstar.
Sharpe - Yes, here is a picture of it in the RECORD magazine!
Dickieson, Yes, and it was the same as they used in the Relay satellite also. NASA had recognized what Walter Brown had proposed was far and away the best and they put it in their satellite also. Both of those satellites taught us much. When we heard of the nuclear test we were scared. We were afraid that they might launch it a day after we were going to launch! It was before our launch though.
The immediate effects were gone by the time we launched, but I donít think anybody would foresee that it would fill up the van Allen Belt. But it did, and that is what destroyed the command channel. There were two command channels, everything was duplicated in there! We were fairly confident that the first one had failed rather quickly, we couldnít tell why. But then the second one, it became rather erratic we noticed so that only when we were in really favorable conditions could get it to work. So I was faced with a problem.
But I remember that over the weekend, I got the word from the boys that they were having real problem. Had we left it turned on it would have ruined the batteries.
Sharpe - Sure, because it took a while for the solar cells to charge the nicad batteries?
Dickieson - Oh yes! You could only run it for 45 minutes, and then you had to charge it though the rest of the orbit.
Sharpe - Probably due to the current draw of the traveling wave tube?
Dickieson - Sure! 5 watts. We could run it for about 45 minutes. I made the discussion, if we turned it off we at least wouldnít destroy anything!
Sharpe - Tell me more about the failure in the command channel circuit.
Dickieson - We had a code of onís and offís, it was a binary sequence. As I remember, it was a 10 bit sequence, and I donít know how it was chosen, but when it quit, John Mayo sat down and said to himself "Well if that theory is correct and if did damage this transistor in this way, what command will it recognize now?" He then went through all the figuring out, and there was another command that it would now respond to.
Sharpe - Just because of a transistor, in I would suppose would be a gate circuit.
Dickieson - It turned onesís into zeroís or vice versa and he figured out what it would do to the signal. It was as though a combination on a safe was hit with a sledge hammer, now what combination do you have! John was a brilliant guy, and we got a lot of publicity when we turned it back on again.
Bell Laboratories was very much of a team effort. There were a thousand technical people all over the place that worked on that project. They were all very much motivated. They worked days and nights on this project, the reason was that we somehow got the notion that we were in the world class. We were the world class team! They were dedicated to doing that. They all felt very good when it worked, naturally!
When it quit, we all felt that it was kind of an unknown we could have designed against this problem. Maybe Walter Brown did, but none of the rest of us did have any notion that high altitude blast was going to go off as it was very secret.
It was Walter Brown through some of his contacts in some research council heard about it and we debated seriously what we were going to do. He finally found out what the date of the launch was. It was highly classified thing and we all breathed a sigh of relief that it was a week ahead. We were all afraid that it would be the actual blast that would catch us and destroy Telstar!
When we heard that it was a week ahead we breathed a sigh of relief and thought our problems were behind us. But they were not!!
Sharpe - With the radiation in the van Allen Belt, do you think it would have still caused problems?
Dickieson - No, I donít believe so. Our people had taken all of this into consideration, they felt that it was safe.
Sharpe - I remember all the talk about the fears of astronauts going through the van Allen radiation belt, and what the effects might be on them.
Dickieson - All of the device experts advised me that we would be all right. It turned out that the actual intensities that they measured were much above what they were expecting!
We spent a lot of time worrying what micro-meteorites were going to do to it.
*** A.C. Dickieson and I looked at the paper that K.D. Smith wrote to James Early about micro-meteorite damage to solar cells, and that there was a large difference between what they thought would be the diminishment in solar cell output and the actual loss of output that was experienced during Telstarís orbits.***
Sharpe - Perhaps, some of the loss in the solar cells was caused by the effects of that high altitude test...
Dickieson - Perhaps, or maybe the data we got before we had satellites up was rather scattered!
Sharpe - It was mainly theory...
Dickieson - No one knew what the accuracy of van Allenís predictions were. We had very little knowledge at that time.
Sharpe - Wasnít it the telemetry that had the 2 year timer on it?
Dickieson - It was a clock, it would turn off automatically we had a 2 year experiment....
Sharpe - I know that the Echo balloon project came down, did Telstarís orbit decay?
Dickieson - No, it has not fallen back! I think it is up there for a hundred years or so more.
Sharpe - Fantastic! It is still there!
Dickieson - It was fortunate that one on my bright fellows made the command channel work again! We had plenty of margin on the solar cells. It was transistors that failed. We had plenty of margin on every thing on that satellite. The situation was that AT&T was banking very heavy on it, so the instructions I had was get it up there and make it work, money no object, meet the dates, meet the objectives, money no object!
Sharpe - Well as to your part in the project then, where did you fit in the organizational management chart?
Dickieson - I was named project manager!
I was at the time the director of the laboratory, that was in charge of microwave relay system development; TD-2, TH all of those systems.
Sharpe - So did you report right to President of Bell Telephone Laboratories then?
Dickieson - Oh no! I was a director, reporting to a vice president, who reported to an executive director, who reported to the president. I was way down the line!
Apparently when they looked around they decided they needed a project manager. The project was spread all over the laboratories you know, someone had to mind the store! My boss told me I was going to be project manager, and I knew that I was going to have to deal with vice presidents of other departments. What authority do I have? I asked my boss.. "Whatever you need!" he replied! Well I never had to wave it as everyone had been told by the president of the company, he had given the word to all of the vice presidents that they had to get this job done and I was the project manager and to co-operate with me!
I had a small group, we designed the microwave equipment used in the satellite. We kept that part of the project, the five watt transmitter using the traveling wave tube and the receiver. We also designed the command channel and the telemetry channel.
For the ground station the antennas were designed at the at the military operations at Whippany, as they had much more expertise, but they had never built anything as big as this! Manufacture was contracted out.
Of course the device people (at BTL) made all of the transistors and photocells and other parts that made up the satellite.
The way it worked was that Telstar was a ball within a ball. The outside was the part with the solar cells, and the inside ball had all of the electronics package in it. It was suspended inside the outer ball with nylon cord, so that it was shock and vibration resistant. We designed the inner ball and the device people under John Hornbeck and other took the outer ball and built and put the solar cells on and mounted the antennas. That was the way we divided up the work, it was the sensible way.
This design had a lot of virtues, as one of our problems was to maintain the temperature inside that ball. So we spent a lot of time and thought maintaining the temperature, and one way was to insulate the inner ball from the outer ball. One of the telemetry channels was for measuring temperature, and we kept it at 75 plus or minus 5 degrees. That was one of the things that worked very well.
***We paused to look at a photograph of TELSTAR that showed it in detail and A.C. Dickieson pointed out where the antennas were on TELSTAR.***
Sharpe - What was this antenna on top used for?
Dickieson - It was for command and telemetry. At first we had that designed so that it would pop up when finally in space, but that was too chancy so we just left it there.
Sharpe - Every one of these satellites that were sent up, the telemetry was always taking scientific measurements in the early days, even if it was planned to be a communications satellite wasnít it?
Dickieson - We were especially collecting data on the radiation in space. It was Walter Brownís experiment, and it was a very important part of it. It worked perfectly all the time it was in operation.
Sharpe - I remember we were very concerned about radiation, as we were considering sending men into space!
There were three things that were a big puzzle:
Will the radiation in space kill men?
Will prolonged weightlessness deteriorate the body?
Is the moon covered with so much dust, when we land SURVEYOR ( un-manned probe built by Hughes for JPL), will it sink in and disappear!
Dickieson - Yes it was Gold up at Cornell that founded that dust theory! As it turned out there was really very little dust at all!
Dickieson - The thing that is interesting to me about Telstar, is to look back after nearly 30 years and see how things have changed.
I look at it and I realize that the whole telephone business now handles digits, it is no longer analog transmission at all and digits donít fit microwave relay systems, as bandwidth is too valuable and scarce. It does not fit coaxial cable because the loss goes up too fast.
The reason TD-2 has run its course is the bandwidth problem.
I just saw that the American-Japanese underwater 128 channel cable has been given away to a scientific group for their use. The fiber optic cable that replaced it has 40,000 channels!
There are a lot of questions about TELSTAR that a lot of people havenít thought about. Our research people, John Pierce and that group, saw an orderly progression of demonstrating feasibility of satellite communication.
First the passive satellite ECHO-1. Then a low altitude active satellite and then onto a high altitude Geo-synchronous satellite. They saw this a as a normal orderly progression. They also recognized that you needed to make experiments at each of those levels, to answer specific questions, as you were not trying to build an operational system at this point.
The questions on the high altitude satellite, can you get it in orbit and keep it there, how much gas did you have to have up there to keep it where it was supposed to be? On the low altitude satellites, you had questions of: could you have electronics in space, could you power them? On Echo, it was to calculate path losses and antenna gain. This is the way it actually went..
As I told you over the phone that project ADVENT tried to leap frog by jumping into an operating system.
Sharpe - That was the early idea for a Geo-synchronous system?
Dickieson - And they never got to launching a satellite! They built a lot of ground stations because that they could do, but they never got to the satellite! The project finally got killed!!
Then there was a more sensible view taken by NASA, once they got the military out of their hair. NASA working with Hughes, launched one. It was done very quickly, and a lot of the people like John Pierce didnít think this would come for 10 years. I guess the ADVENT debacle scared everybody!
Sharpe - I understand, that at one time, they (Bell) had a plan to launch 50 low altitude satellites. You would never be out of range of one!
Dickieson - The low altitude system of course is only in view for a short time, so if you are going to have continuous transmission you have to have a multiplicity of them!
Sharpe - When I talked to Jim Early one day, I said it is a good thing that Syncom was launched, that took care of the problem!
He said that there were problems inherent in high altitude due to the delay time!
Dickieson - Some of our people at the laboratories made a lot of tests on delay, and of course, we had a lot of experience in our own company with echo suppressors on long cables. When you would hear yourself at a delayed time, you couldnít even talk depending on how strong the echo was. We had to have echo suppressors that would shut off the transmission in the opposite direction, but most people try to talk both at once, and you couldnít do that! So the longer the delay got with an echo suppressor, the more annoying this effect became! And really a tenth of a second was all that we could see living with.
When the discussion of the synchronous satellite came up with itís quarter of a second delay each way, they said it wouldnít work. They referred to it as intolerable, which was kind of a big word. There was a big internal argument about that at Bell Laboratories, I was the one that pointed out that sure the echo suppressor was a pain, but the circuit was better than HF radio!
***At this point we joked about radio signals fading and the Ďbizarre noisesí that were always present during HF communications! ***
Dickieson - The one thing that was clear, but we didnít pay enough attention to, was with synchronous satellites the obvious advantage was that you can see it from a lot of places on earth! So if you want a few circuits in scattered places, it was ideal. You can go from New York to 50 places in Africa! Where it would be totally impractical to run a submarine cable to all of these places, the synchronous satellite would handle it well!
Sharpe - The one thing they always talked about was the high cost of these satellites, but what about the high cost of transatlantic cable?
Dickieson - It was really high! Now, letís get back to the 50 satellite thing.
We were anxious to get in on the demonstration of the feasibility of a communication satellite system and at the time we were in the midst of the ADVENT debacle, so the notion of us proposing to do it at the synchronous orbit level was not sensible. But, if we put one up at the 3 to 4 thousand mile orbit we could deal with that all right, and the rocket to do that was available.
Sharpe - Yes in the early days of the various programs, we did not have rockets that produced enough thrust to attain high orbit if I remember my history correctly.
Dickieson - Correct! We said if we want to do this by a certain time we have no choice but to use an existing rocket and put it in a low altitude orbit!
If it had been purposed as a feasibility study, that would have made a lot of sense and no one would have argued. But the political atmosphere was such that the argument was who was going to have the monopoly on the satellite use for telecommunications. It had to be couched in terms of a working system. The only way that you could do it with a low altitude system was to have a multiplicity of 40, 50, whatever satellites. You have to have, at each ground station 2 big antennas, one handling the one you are on, and the other picking up the one that is coming up next, and then switching over!!
None of us that had to design the thing ever took that seriously though! If you went to the synchronous satellite and you had a multiplicity of ground stations then you put all you money in one expensive satellite and a lot of cheap stations.. If you put up a lot of satellites they had better be cheap and you spent more on ground stations. None of us thought seriously of putting 50 up. I had the job of putting one up, never mind 50 of them!
Sharpe - Did they ever attach a cost figure to the launching of TELSTAR I for all services involved?
Dickieson - About 70 million. That was to build the satellite and ground stations, and of course that was 70 million in 1960ís dollars, which maybe 700 million now!
Sharpe - But also it was a pioneering technology, you could not buy a lot of off-the-shelf stuff, you had to develop the N on P solar cells. It was not as though you could just go to the store and say: "Iíll take a hundred of these and a hundred of those"!
Dickieson - Like the batteries! They were lousy! Our people practically redesigned them for the manufacturer, and told them how to make them, so we could buy from them! We were aiming at a reliability that was far above anything that they talked about!
As you say, the technology had to be developed because it wasnít there! The whole manner of how to plate the waveguide was developed in the laboratories under the pressure of this job. There were all sorts of times, when you went through the project, where you had to solve problems right on the spot.
Our device people just poured an enormous amount of effort into it!
Sharpe - Your job then was to keep all of these people working in harmony. It must have been phenomenal!
Dickieson - Well it was a problem at times, but we had good people. Occasionally there would be jealousies and such, but they were good people!
Of course we had a running battle with NASA over the whole thing, from their standpoint, we were their subcontractor! But from our viewpoint we were putting up all the money and they were a subcontractor to us! But they had the launch facility and we didnít!
Sharpe - Ha! Yes, that reminds me of when I was in high school, and there would be a debate between the kids whose fathers worked for JPL and worked at Hughes as to "whose Surveyor space craft" it was! I remember the time one of the teachers had to break up what was becoming a rather loud discussion on this topic!
Dickieson - Of course with NASA they took the attitude that they had to know all about this satellite because we were using these scarce facilities, and they had to make sure it was going to be used wisely. So they had a guy they assigned to us. We would have a hundred top flight people working on the project, and this was a knuckle head we would not have hired as a T.A.! It was trivial compared to what NASA had in England and France.
Sharpe - Now, let me understand this, Bell hired NASA to do the launch, right?
Dickieson - Yes! We paid all of the bills!
Sharpe - Yes! You hired them!
Dickieson - It was not the way they looked at it! There was a years worth of negotiation to get it assigned; a time, a place and from their viewpoint, it was a big gift to us!
Sharpe - In a way I can see their point, as they wanted to make sure that things were done correctly. I am sure that if I called them up and asked then to launch something for me, I presume that I would have trouble getting it done!
Dickieson - Bureaucratically, they had a good argument, really, but they did not have the staff to handle it!
They at first went over to England to build a ground station in competition with the Post Office, and they learned pretty soon that was not going to happen! So then they had to disseminate the knowledge of this great experiment for use of everybody, so the way they interpreted this was that they had to have all the details of the ground station. So I had three or four people from NASA going through great bales of drawings and spec sheets! You can imagine how much makes up a ground station!
Sharpe - Didnít Andover have a MASER in it?
Dickieson - Yes! it had lotís of innovations, but they took all this stuff and didnít do anything with it! It wasnít worth anything to anyone else! All of the technical details were written up in technical articles anyway! They thought that they would make available to the world something that we were all going to hide behind patents. The fact was is that we had patent licensing agreements with all of the big companies in the world anyway!
Here, they went over to England, where the British had built their own ground station with their own money and NASA said that if they wanted to be part of the project, you have to give us all the information and patent rights!
Sharpe - I can imagine what the British said to that!
Dickieson - Yes! And in a very British way!
*** THE TE and TD SERIES ***
Dickieson - The TD-2 was quite an interesting project!
Sharpe - Which really came first TD-2 or the TE-1 microwave relay systems?
Dickieson -They were more or less simultaneous, one was short haul and one was the big long haul backbone.
The TD-2 the first transcontinental was quite a project! Our long lines department did all the civil engineering work and planning. They got to Salt Lake City pretty straightforwardly, but the question was how to get to the coast? If you look on the map, it is just about the same amount of miles either to Los Angeles or to San Francisco. Either way you still had to have a link from Los Angeles to San Francisco. So it was a big conflict.
It was finally decided it would go to San Francisco. The question on how to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco then became a big issue. The north and south (California) were like this (a motion of two fists pulling apart was demonstrated). They could not agree on the a way to lay out the route, so another fellow from AT&T and I were sent out to mediate this argument.
The TD-2 link going through Utah goes up through the mountains, and they were talking about that there was 24 feet of snow! When you would look down from the mountain you could see just the tops of the telephone poles! When I got back to New Jersey, they had just had two 24 inch snow falls, two weeks apart, and one of them came before I left, so I left my wife shoveling 24 inches of snow!
I got out there to Los Angles and there was a very acrimonious discussion so we took the topographic maps out and we all looked at them "How about right there" I said, "No", they said, "We canít go there, there is too much snow". Well I had seen 24 feet of snow, so I figured there might be maybe 10 feet worth! We went round and round trying to go somewhere else and link up with the signal coming down from San Francisco, and there just seemed to be no way!
After lunch, when we reconvened, I said "It just has to go up on that mountain", there is no other way to break the puzzle. Finally I turned to the engineer and asked how much snow they got up there, and he replied that they got "5 inches every so often, and it tied everything up in knots"!
***We were both getting a real laugh out of this story! ***
I had just left my wife coping with 24 inches of snow, so I was not polite, so I told him what I thought of that! So they put it up on that mountain! That Southern California crowd, just 5 inches of snow they were terrorized!
Sharpe - How did you get interested in electronics? Letís go back to when you were a kid, were you interested in electricity and radio and communications?!
Dickieson - No, not really, I grew up in a poor family in Brooklyn. My mother was left a widow when I was six years old, and I had two older brothers. She would work in the factory to support the family. My brothers, when they were 13 or 14, they went to work to help support us. In those days you could skip grades so when I got of grade school I was 13 and you had to be 14 to get working papers, so I had to go to High School. I had skipped enough so I would enter as a sophomore. My brother was in France with the Army military, so my other brother and my mother decided that I should go to high school. I was the first in the family to ever go to high school!
Sharpe - What year would this have been?
Dickieson - I graduated High School in 1921, and I was not quite 16. Then I went to work, there was no way I could go to college. There was quite a depression in 1921, a lot of people have forgotten. It was postwar, plenty of people out of work, but I finally got a job with a company in Brooklyn that made tire valves. I was running their addressograph machine printing time cards.
Then I started going to college at Brooklyn Polytechnic at night, I was studying engineering. I didnít know anything about it, I didnít have the faintest notion of what they did, but I had done very well in math and science in High School, so it seemed like something that would interest me. So I banged around in various jobs until 1923.
Sharpe - This was electronics engineering?
Dickieson - They had only one course, and it was mainly power engineering, you know AC motors, DC motors. The wheel turned and I got a job with what was then Western Electric Company in New York City in the engineering department. I was there when that part of it became the Bell Laboratories in 1925. I had been with them only a couple of years then.
I had a job before in Long Island city that from Brooklyn was a long subway ride, I had to go to New York and back!
Sharpe - So you had already gotten your degree by then?
Dickieson - No no! I was still going to school nights!
I took the job at Western Electric because it was a much shorter subway ride! It was my motivation! I left for a year when the talking movies came in; anyone with a knowledge of electronics was in demand by the movies.
Sharpe - The ERPI sound system!
Dickieson - No! I went to Fox Movietone, one of their competitors! I didnít go with the Western Electric side of things. But after a year I decided that movies were not my dish. I didnít fit into that community. I went back and got a job at Bell Laboratories again. Which was just in time, as it was just before the great depression.
When the depression came, business was really shot. Bell Labs had two layoffs about 3 weeks apart and a lot of people went, about a third of our staff. The first two layoffs were entirely on seniority and if you were married. Unmarried guys that did not have seniority got fired, without regard to merit. The third one was coming up and the supervisory staff revolted and insisted that the third one they had to have a hand in choosing, and they made it stick! Some of us were kept on that would have been gone had it been based on this seniority thing.
In later years we got to talking about this, and it turns out that there were six of us that were vice presidents who would have been laid off on that third layoff!
In those days, anyone that had a job was on easy street. We worked five and a half days then we went to five and then to four and a half and then down to four days, which meant you took home less pay!
Sharpe - But at least you still had a job!
Dickieson - OH YES! Anybody that had a job was really pretty well off, because prices came down so drastically. We used to play golf out at the famous Engineers Club out on Long Island for a dollar! They were happy to see us come in during the depression!
Sharpe - At what point did you get your degree, and your doctorate degree?
Dickieson - I donít even have a bachelorís degree!!
Sharpe - Oh no?
Dickieson - No, I never did get a degree.
Sharpe - I could have sworn it said you had a degree on it ( I picked up the Air Force Award that was awarded to Dr. Pierce and Dr. Dickieson)
Dickieson - Oh! Well they called me a doctor! They didnít know any better! By the time I had finished all the technical program, I was supervisor in the organization and I just didnít have time to finish! I often debated if I should go back, but there was nothing left to do but the so-called cultural courses, which in that day in age at Brooklyn Poly were trivial nonsense! So I never finished. I never regretted it either. The Bell Laboratories was a much better educational institution than any college around, I think!
Sharpe - There were so many knowledge resources there!
Dickieson - Thatís right, and there were so many famous people, if you went to them and were serious and asked them a serious question, they were delighted to talk to you! The bigger the name the more anxious they were to talk to you! Like Harry Nyquist, anyone could go to Harry and ask him a serious question and he spent two hours with you!
I remember when Rudi Kompfner got a group of department heads and directors to talk about satellite communications right out of the blue! None of us had any authorization to work on it, but at that level we didnít sign a time card anyway. We were kind of overhead expense. But Kelly wrote a letter that said that he didnít think it was worth doing, he thought we had more important things to do!
Kompfner pulled this together this group, and just on the basis of "isnít this interesting!" Pretty soon we had a working group that put in a lot of time. After we had done it for some months, and it came up that AT&T was getting interested, we actually got out a report on how you would do it.
This first report was on how you would do it with passive satellites. Actually of course Echo came along and Pierce and company then did it. By that time we had all convinced ourselves that it was just about as easy to put up an active satellite as a passive, and it would do more for us. We then shifted our report to recommend what became TELSTAR! We had a plan of how to do it long before we had any authorization at all to do it!
Rudi Kompfner was an Austrian, and he had that Austrian charm and everybody liked him. He had a wonderful way of leading a discussion and getting it started. When it finally came to accepting the project as something we were going to do, we already had a plan all worked out ahead of time!
***Alas, all interviews have to end at some point. After exhausting our supply of tape and the hours we could stay awake, we called it a night! - EAS***
|add photos -
The picture of the three operators in England mentioned in the text by A.C.
Dickieson. (With permission, Bell Laboratories RECORD)
Live broadcast from France discussed in text (With permission, Bell Laboratories RECORD)
A.C. Dickieson holding 'THE AEROSPACE MAN OF THE YEAR AWARD he received for work on Telsar.
|It is always best when you can talk to people that did the work on a project. Meeting A.C. Dickieson was indeed a high point in my life! All the years I had thought of Telstar, at last, to meet the project manager! I was indeed impressed! We will continue to interview A.C. Dickieson, as he has many more things that he wishes to share with all of us.