On Thursday, mayors from Medford and sister city Alba, Italy, will commemorate a historic moment: the day their predecessors spoke from across 5,719 miles via the first telecommunications satellite in space. Only this time, they'll be talking via Skype.

On Thursday, mayors from Medford and sister city Alba, Italy, will commemorate a historic moment: the day their predecessors spoke from across 5,719 miles via the first telecommunications satellite in space. Only this time, they'll be talking via Skype.

Long before the proliferation of computers and smartphones, communications crossing oceans were possible only through transoceanic cables or high-powered transmitters. Scientists at Bell Labs, a division of the 1960s AT&T Co., thought they had a better idea: the Telstar Project.

They would launch a satellite, a telecommunications "star," with the ability to receive a signal, amplify it and retransmit a message or video across the Atlantic to Europe. The size of a large beach ball, Telstar cost AT&T $1 million to build, and an additional $3 million for NASA to launch and track.

It could relay up to 600 telephone calls and one black-and-white television channel at a time.

Within hours of its July 10, 1962, launch, the satellite was relaying its first television signal from the U.S. to Europe — the American flag accompanied by the National Anthem. Then came a flurry of telephone calls, news photos and more television back and forth between France, Great Britain and the United States.

Just a few days later, then-Medford Mayor John Snider received word that the U.S. Information Agency had chosen Medford as the only Northwestern city out of 23 cities nationwide to be allowed to make a telephone call to its sister city.

Snider was head of Oregon's sister city program, and in 1960 had led the effort to associate with Alba, Italy, as a sister city under President Dwight Eisenhower's "person-to-person" program, aimed at promoting international understanding and friendship through personal contacts.

Just before 4 p.m. on July 26 in Medford, nearly an hour after midnight of the following day in Italy, Snider gathered with 60 others in the City Council chambers and waited for the international operator to connect him with Alba Mayor Osvaldo Cagnasso.

In Alba, more than 5,000 residents gathered in the middle of the night, eyes and ears fixed on the loudspeakers set up in the town plaza that carried the historic conversation.

Sitting next to Cagnasso, as translator, was Sandra Giglio, an Italian English teacher.

"It is very good to speak with you across the many miles separating our sister cities," Snider began, "and to tell you how proud Medford, Oregon, is to be associated in a program of mutual friendship."

Snider spoke for less than a minute-and-a-half, while Cagnasso responded with four minutes of untranslated Italian.

The connection was poor, often fading in and out like a shortwave radio broadcast. Long pauses in conversation, backed by humming and a touch of echo, were occasionally punctuated with Snider's voice trying to make contact.

"Hello? "… Hello? "… Medford, Oregon still here. "… Hello?"

"As the world becomes smaller, my dear friend Osvaldo, let us hope our friendship may become even greater," Snider said.

"It has been a great pleasure to talk with you and all of our good friends in Alba."

After barely 10 minutes, the scientific miracle that had connected two friends sitting 5,719 miles apart was over.

"I beg your pardon, sir," said the operator, "Telstar has gone out of range. Will you please conclude your call?"

Telstar. "La stella che rende gli amici," said the Italians — "The star that makes friends."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.