The First Electronic Church of America

Howard Hughes: A man of dreams and action

Howard Robard Hughes, Jr.
Born December 24, 1905. Died April 5, 1976.

For those who have a tabloid view of history, it may seem a stretch for us to include Howard Hughes in FECHA's list of saints. But our saints are an uncommon lot. They belong here in this list not for the holiness of their lives, but for their effective efforts at bringing the human race together in electrospace, a term we believe more descriptive than the more popular "cyberspace."

While there are many photos of Hughes, this is the only one he ever sat down for a photo session. The collage is unique to Fecha.

11" x 14" Pigment Print - $99.00
30" x 38" Pigment Print - $390.00

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(Cyberspace takes off from the term "cybernetics," invented in 1948 by Princeton's Norbert Wiener, to describe the similarities between the operation of computers and the activities of the human nervous system. Weiner borrowed the cyber- root from the Greek cybernetes -- literally, "helmsman," because Weiner was engaged in research about the ways that men and women were learning how to "steer" in a new kind of world -- the world of the electron. It is this precisely this world that we are celebrating on our Home Page, the world which has, in fact, been discovered and recreated by all the saints and heroes of FECHA, beginning with Maxwell.)

Consider the creative contributions of Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. to the world of electro-space. Historians give Hughes credit for his pioneering efforts in airplane design. (The Smithsonian's aerospace museum gives Hughes credit for inventing flush riveting, and the variable-pitch propeller, and for setting world speed records as a pilot.) Hollywood has lionized him for producing at least three marvelous, trailblazing movies, "Hells Angels," "The Front Page," and "Scarface."

But these exploits pale in comparison to another, much more important, though more hidden, contribution made by Hughes. In the early 1950s, Hughes, a short-wave radio buff before he was into his teens, had a vision -- of a world in which men and women could communicate instantaneously, no matter where they were on earth (or above it) by means of geosynchronous communications satellites. Others had the idea before Hughes -- most notably the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. But it was Hughes who had the guts and the vision to hire hundreds of the best electronics engineers he could find (with ongoing millions earned from the famous oil-drilling bit invented by Hughes's father) to make the Clarke dream into a reality.

To Clarke, that satellite was never going to be more than a dream because, at the time he first wrote about that satellite, it would have been a monstrosity. For one thing, it would have required millions of radio tubes. For another, it would have needed hundreds of technicians, up in space, replacing burnt-out tubes, day and night. The satellite would have been bigger than Manhattan Island, and there was no rocket that could put such a pay load in space.

Because of the needs of people like Howard Hughes, however, William Shockley would replace the radio tube with a marvelous new invention, the transistor. Suddenly, in 1963, the engineers at Hughes Electronics were able to build, and launch, Syncom I and then Syncom II. By the mid-1960s, the geo-synchronous satellite was no longer a dream, but a reality.

Howard Hughes has never been given the credit for making any of this happen. Why not? It was simply a matter of politics. Air Force generals, snubbed once too many times by a Hughes who was often distracted by other things (sometimes work, and sometimes play), had issued a ukase to the financial officers at Hughes: "If you want our business, keep Hughes's name out of it." Common sense (and Hughes's own laughter over this pompous decree) dictated official company policy from then on: no one could hope to be a player in the aerospace business unless they could do business with the Pentagon. They kept Hughes's name out of it.

For this, history is poorer. But we are enriched. It was a Hughes engineer, Theodore H. Maiman, working in the Hughes Research Laboratory at Malibu, California, who invented the laser, in 1960. And Hughes engineers who continue to work on practical applications of radar and laser technology that have led to the development of CDs and laser-disks, which help bring music and movies to millions across the world.

For the complete story on how Howard Hughes happened to become the creator he became, and for the reasons behind the seclusion of Howard Hughes's final years, we refer FECHA's members, and visitors to FECHA, to a novel (and movie), St. Howard, by Robert Blair Kaiser. Look for it sometime in 1997.

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