Twinkle, Twinkle Little Satellite
The 25th satellite to reach Earth orbit, Echo 1, was launched on August 12, 1960. The enormous metallic balloon (also called a “satelloon”) was an experimental NASA communications satellite that functioned as a passive reflector of microwaves, redirecting telephone, radio, and TV signals. It was the first to successfully demonstrate the potential of communication satellites. Because we are sticking to official satellite launch records, we must reluctantly ignore 1957’s Project Thunderwell, in which, several months before Sputnik’s launch, an explosion inadvertently sent a four-inch-thick steel plate (part of an underground nuclear test in Nevada) into orbit.
Is Everybody In?
The first craft to get 25 people into the air at once was Henri Giffard’s huge tethered balloon, which in 1878 lifted 52 giddy Frenchmen and -women at the World’s Fair in Paris. For powered airships, it was the Zeppelin LZ11 Viktoria Luise, which first flew in February 1912, and could carry 25 passengers and a crew of eight. And for powered airplanes, Germany’s Claudius Dornier created the 12-engine, 157-foot-wingspan Do X flying boat, which broke through the 25 mark with 66 passengers. Its first test flight was in July 1929. In October of that year, it hoisted 169 people off of Lake Constance on the border of Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. The current record for most aboard was set during Israel’s evacuation of Ethiopian Jews from Africa in May 1991 in a cargo version of a Boeing 747: 1,122 people—including two babies born on the flight.