From a dimly lighted room at Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness Street NW, technicians keep watch round the clock over 19 satellites that circle the globe more than 23,000 miles up. The orbiting spacecraft are the global communications system of Intelsat, a telecommunications consortium providing service in more than 200 countries and territories.
Through commands entered on computer screens, the technicians can fire tiny thrusters on the satellites that change their orientation toward the earth. Other commands control the links going to and from space -- the satellites can handle Internet connections and video broadcasts as well as phone calls.
Technicians such as Karla Costello (below) work 12-hour shifts, watching the vital signs of the satellites for trouble and carrying out scheduled changes in their operations. Satellites may remain in service for almost 20 years, but they'd quickly become orbiting junk without the skillful nurturing of the people on the ground.
These screens monitor satellites' performance and "health."
Screen shows position of all 19 satellites; warns of solar interference and other problems.
Buttons provide direct telephone link to Earth stations around the world.
A fan. It gets hot in there.
Operators type in commands that fire thrusters, turning and moving satellites.