If you were the first person to make a peep in a noiseless, endless void, what would you say? If the question makes you scratch your head, don’t worry: You’ll never face down the dilemma of being the first human ever to be broadcast in space. That honor went to President Dwight D. Eisenhower—and as Hilary Parkinson reports for the National Archives, his message carried a bit of Christmas cheer into orbit.
Eisenhower became the first person whose voice was ever transmitted through space on December 19, 1958. That’s when Project SCORE, the world’s first communications satellite, went online. The United States had already missed the boat when Sputnik 1 was launched by the Russians, so SCORE was not only a technological advance—it was a statement that the Americans, too, were space-age players.
SCORE wasn’t just a chance to prove that communication could happen in space. It was also an opportunity to show off the Atlas rocket. Originally designed as an ICBM, Atlas was also powerful enough to take things into orbit. Determined to showcase its biggest, best missile and flex its space muscles, the United States designed a satellite for a short-term test.
At first, the satellite was supposed to play a dry test message, but at the last minute President Eisenhower decided to record a Christmas-themed message instead.
“This is the President of the United States speaking," the message said. "Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you from 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 good will to men everywhere.”
“Chatterbox.” as it was nicknamed, wasn’t long for this world: It only stayed in orbit for 35 days. But it was a smashing success. Perhaps ironically given Eisenhower’s message of peace, it was hailed as evidence of the United States’ superior military might. It’s also a classic—the Library of Congress has preserved it as part of its National Recording Registry.
Then again, it could also be viewed as an unexpectedly festive way to usher in the satellite age—a kind of presidential Christmas card that just happened to be attached to a four-and-a-half ton missle.