Andrew M. Werth, 74

Satellite Technology Developer, Nationally Ranked Bicycle Racer

 Andrew M. Werth, racing his bicycle
Andrew M. Werth, racing his bicycle (Mike Gladu)
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Andrew M. Werth, 74, a satellite technology developer and entrepreneur who was considered a key figure in the industry for decades, died Jan. 28 at Sibley Memorial Hospital's Grand Oaks Assisted Living center. He had dementia.

Mr. Werth was former president of Hughes Network Systems International, where he helped build and sell satellite systems to 17 countries for a variety of uses, including telecommunications and weather forecasting.

He spent his childhood in Germany, France and Cuba, and his fluency in multiple languages was crucial to his work in international business. Mr. Werth helped Hughes win a major contract in 1998 with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, which monitors the nuclear activities of the world's powers.

He was one of the earliest employees of Washington-based Comsat and was responsible for the tracking, telemetry and command systems of the world's first commercial satellite, Early Bird, launched in 1965.

He held a number of patents in the field of satellite technology and marketed Hughes technology that became the backbone of the private satellite network, connecting millions of retail businesses, including hotels, gas stations and other users.

Throughout his career, Mr. Werth managed to find time to bicycle, sometimes several thousand miles a year. He was a nationally ranked racer in his youth and in his senior years, when he resumed serious bicycling and raised his mileage to 10,000 miles a year. He won the USA Cycling Masters Track National Championship in 2000, 2003 and 2004.

Born in Saarbruecken, Germany, in 1934 to a German father and a French mother, Andrew Michael Werth grew up bilingual. His family was Jewish and fled the Nazi regime.

The Werths settled near Paris but soon had to leave as the Germans advanced to the French capital. Mr. Werth was raised Catholic and remained a practitioner of that religion throughout his life; his family learned later of its Jewish heritage.

After a brief period in Casablanca, Morocco, the family boarded a Portuguese steamer for Cuba, where the 8-year-old Mr. Werth learned Spanish. Two years later, the Werths immigrated to the United States, and the 10-year-old learned English.

As a teenager in New York, Mr. Werth became obsessed with bicycling. His mother urged him to get a job, but the young man took off for Canada for nine days. Upon his return, he revealed his winnings -- a stack of $100 bills, which paid for a semester at Columbia University, where he graduated and later earned a master's degree in electrical engineering.

He met his future wife at a bike race and competed in the 1952 Olympic trials, at which he just missed qualifying for the team because of a flat tire. He served in the Air Force during the 1950s.

His career began at ITT in New Jersey, where he was assigned to research digital satellite communications just as the Russians launched Sputnik. By 1964, he left ITT for Comsat, becoming its 35th employee. He worked with Hughes, which had the contract for Early Bird, and he later became responsible for launch operations from the ATT Telstar Earth Station at Andover, Maine.

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