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Comsat Labs: Paradise lost?
Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2005

I have been reading with alarm of plans to raze the buildings that once housed Comsat Laboratories to make room for, of all things, a parking lot. In addition to its unique architecture, the contributions from the work done at Comsat Labs were no less significant to the space race, and ultimately more useful, than work done at the Johnson or Kennedy Space Centers.

Comsat Labs was formed in 1967 as a think tank, research facility to propel the United States to the forefront of satellite technology, a virtual ‘‘paradise” for those scientists, engineers and technologists to truly develop the technology to utilize the new frontier of space. The manned space flight program has given us immense national pride, aluminum foil, Tang and a couple of hundred pounds of moon rocks. The work done at Comsat Labs has been awarded more than 300 U.S. patents. The use of satellite technology is so ubiquitous that it is taken for granted.

For anyone who’s swiped a credit card at a retail chain for transaction reconciliation; who’s made an international telephone call; who watches network, cable or satellite direct-to-home TV; for families with loved ones in theaters of operation impacted by military intelligence gathering via satellite; for breakthroughs in battery technology and solar panel technology; for the countless lives saved by early warning of adverse weather via satellite imaging; virtually everyone of us owes a debt of gratitude to the men and women of Comsat Labs. They laid the foundation and developed the technology for all of this and more.

Comsat was a unique institution in unique times. A time when we reached for a new frontier with the "right stuff" with the will, the human intellect, the common vision to conquer space. Comsat was the site of that rare confluence of intellectual determination, acumen and understanding. To steal a line from the film ‘‘Field of Dreams,” Comsat Labs is ‘‘... a part of our past. It reminds of all that was once good and could be again.” To pave over this field of dreams to make a field of asphalt is unconscionable. It is more fitting to make these historic buildings a monument to the men and women of Comsat Labs, and the results of their dedication and passion that affects our lives every day in almost every way.

A companion facility to the Air and Space Museum with a focus on satellite history and technology and its impact on all of us would be of more value to the community and the upcounty than yet another couple of thousand square feet of asphalt in the form of a parking lot.

Bill McNamara, Germantown

The writer is a former Comsat World Systems employee.

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