I learned about Project SCORE while watching an exceptional documentary film, "Sputnik Mania," which aired recently on The History Channel. If it's repeated again, I strongly recommend that you DVR it, and set aside the 90 minutes it takes to watch it. (On a side note, the DVR is critical here; nothing disrupts the transporting entertainment power of a period piece more than a Billy Mays commercial hawking a household cleaner between black and white news reels...)
Produced by Emmy and Peabody award-winning documentary film producer David Hoffman, "Sputnik Mania" provides an incredible, insightful and somewhat unsettling look at the impact the former Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik had on America's psyche. It's reported, for example, that Sputnik's launch led to widespread panic - 60% of Americans thought that nuclear war was imminent and that 50% of the American population would likely die. Even using Nielsen-like margins of error, that's a staggering statistic of gloom.
At the end of the documentary, Hoffman touches on President Dwight Eisenhower's secret project to lift America's spirits - a project so top secret, in fact, that only a handful of people were aware of it before the rocket had already been launched on December 18th. Project SCORE (Signal Communications Orbit Relay Equipment) became the world's first communication satellite - a momentous day for the media world, yet an event that virtually no one knew about until the satellite was designed, deployed, and operational.
And one most of us never knew about, even today.
Certainly, SCORE had its propaganda purposes, beyond the technological breakthrough it represented. SCORE proved, for example, that the U.S. could hurtle a heavy object into space, and keep it there, for an extended period; something of vital national concern when so many felt that satellites would soon evolve into unseen bomb dropping devices.
But more importantly, in the instance of SCORE, the satellite contained two onboard tape recorders (one main and one redundant), which were able to receive, record, and transmit a voice to those with radio receivers below.
And it was there, against the backdrop of near trigger-finger world tension, and the clear need to propagandize the achievement, that President Eisenhower's "broadcast" message instead personified an American ideal worth recalling:
"This is the President of the United States speaking. Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you via a satellite circling in outer space. My message is a simple one: Through this unique means I convey to you and all mankind, America's wish for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men everywhere." In times like this, perhaps we should all reflect a moment, rekindle our "marvel of our advances," and exert just a bit more energy in using our media to advance the cause of peace and goodwill.
Ike would be proud.
Frank Maggio is founder of several media concerns, including 7.TV, LLC, and erinMedia, LLC, a TV ratings company. Frank can be contacted at FM@7.TV.