The Case of the Mylar Mystery

Feb 26, 2010 by Dee Kekesi/Elizabeth M. Jarrell
The Case of the Mylar Mystery
Debbie Thomas cuts the sample to be tested during a visit from PBS's History Detectives. Credit: NASA/Debbie McCallum

(PhysOrg.com) -- There is a mystery afoot at Goddard - the case of the mylar mystery to be exact. On January 11, 2010, "History Detective" Tukufu Zuberi, from the PBS show "The History Detectives," came to Goddard to investigate a mystery. "The History Detectives" show asks viewers to submit unusual objects or clues with a possible historical interest and then selects one as the basis of investigating an historical mystery.

In our case, Zuberi had one clue, a small, unassuming, silver sample of mylar with pink residue on one side. The mystery to be solved was whether or not this bit of mylar was from Goddard’s Echo II satelloon project. Satelloons are a combination of satellites and balloons which were constructed out of bright, metallic mylar for increased visibility.

During the early 1960’s, Goddard launched the Echo I and Echo II satelloon projects. The Echo projects were instrumental in letting the world see that the U.S. was a major force in the space race not very far behind Russia. Among the many contributions of the Echo programs are the first voice communication via satellite which was made by none other than then President Eisenhower and the first coast-to-coast telephone call using a satellite. In addition, the Echo programs resulted in advances in atmospheric density, solar pressure, gossamer structures, solar sailing, and transmitting videos via satellites.

The Case of the Mylar Mystery
NASA's first communication satellite, Echo, was a giant mylar balloon, 100 feet in diameter, that could "bounce" a radio signal from one ground station to another. Credit: NASA

History Detective Zuberi turned to retired engineer and self-professed Echo satelloon historian Ron Muller for help in solving the mylar mystery. He received additional assistance in the form of testing from four members of Goddard’s Materials Engineering Branch including Michael Viens, Alejandro Montoya, Debbie Thomas, and Marjorie Sovinski.

So, what did History Detective Zuberi and his Goddard colleagues determine? Was the silver bit of mylar from our Echo II satelloon project? For the answers to these and other questions regarding the case of the mylar mystery, stay tuned to watch a future episode of "The History Detectives" airing on PBS in the summer of 2010.

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User comments : 2

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Bob_B
5 / 5 (6) Feb 26, 2010
A damn commercial, gee thanks.

I expect to get email telling me this comment has been deleted by the admins.
Nik_2213
not rated yet Feb 27, 2010
If this flimsy fragment has fluttered down from orbit 'intact', that's amazing.
david_42
Feb 27, 2010
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