(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
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
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,
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.