BerandaComputers and TechnologyThe Great Pager Blackout of 1998

The Great Pager Blackout of 1998

Remembering the day that the Galaxy 4 satellite fell out of its orbit around the Earth, knocking out beeper service to 45 million Americans.


WASHINGTON — On May 19, 1998, the Galaxy 4 satellite fell out of its designated orbit for still-disputed reasons. Instantly, 45 million people across America lost service to the indispensable mobile gadgets of the day: pagers. 80 percent of the beepers in America went silent.

Emergency room doctors and law enforcement officials were worried, but if the mainstream media accounts are any indication, ordinary people were happy to have their devices silenced.

“No twee-tweet from the little box on the husband’s waistband. No twee-tweet from from the gizmo on the teenager’s wrist,” Los Angeles Times columnist Shawn Hubler wrote, “No twee-tweet from anybody’s purse or backpack or briefcase.”

The “no one’s buggin’ me” sentiments thread through accounts of the time, but of course, no one gave up their gadgets in exchange for the “sweet silence” of the AP’s story. It took a day or so before PanAmSat, the satellite’s operator, wrote it off as a loss and began to use the Galaxy 6 satellite to get service back up.

NASA solar researcher Dean Pesnell mentioned the Galaxy 4 in a talk Thursday night about the newish Solar Dynamics Observatory, a spacecraft designed to image the sun with better resolution than ever before, at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The Galaxy 4 was one of four satellites that have been lost over the last 20 years, and while we’re not exactly sure what happened to it, some scientists suspect that spaceweather played a role in its loss.

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