For weirdness, Roswell had nothing over Maine in 1962.
A lunar base station, a transplanted Martian snow globe, Mork's egg — whatever it was that was taking shape in the Andover hills back in the winter of 1962 looked like something straight out of an Isaac Asimov
science fiction novel. And in fact the first person to conceive of the idea of relaying beams of information to space and back again from a station like this one was none other than sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke way back in 1945. AT&T, Bell Laboratories, and NASA took Clarke's idea and transformed it into reality, choosing the tiny Oxford County hamlet of Andover for their "radome" because the surrounding hills would prevent microwave radio interference.
Within this sixteen-story polyester fabric structure — literally a huge balloon kept inflated by a series of pumps when this photograph of it was taken — engineers erected a 340-ton, seventy-foot-high, rotating horn antenna to send and receive their television signals from the Telstar 1 satellite orbiting overhead. It was the promise of live international television coverage, even more than the demand for better overseas telephone and radio communications, which had enticed AT&T to gamble three hundred million dollars on this project. The 1964 Olympics was due to take place all the way across the world in Tokyo, and the company wanted the ability to present every race and boxing match for viewers in the U.S.
But the first signal to beam its way across the Atlantic to a receiver in France at 6:45 p.m. on July 11, 1962, was not of heavyweight Joe Frazier, but rather an image of the American flag flying in front of the same white globe shown here. That image and the satellite communication revolution that followed would go on to influence everything from Cold War missile-defense systems to the GPS receivers in our cars and cell phones. In Maine, Andover became one of the state's most surprising destinations, with some 25,000 schoolchildren and tourists every year seeking out the bulbous contraption in the western Maine mountains.
Though the radome and horn antenna were dismantled twenty-five years ago, traces of the region's space-age connection remain, from the local high school that still bears the name "Telstar" to the array of commercial satellite dishes that continue to relay transmissions from this storied spot in a quiet corner of Maine.