The soft, lush lounge chairs in Joseph Charyk's office are the deep blue that astronauts see where thin atmosphere melds into near space, an orbital blue. The requisite glass wall offers a spectacular look at wet memorials, their marble slicked by rain. Above the weather, much higher, up 23,000 miles, the sun is shining, shining on those amazing little moneymakers that made this office possible--the geosynchronous-orbit relay satellites that make the Communications Satellite Corp. (Comsat) profitable.

These days the yearly business in overseas phone calls that Comsat satellites handle is worth "several hundred million dollars," says chairman Charyk, 63, who had headed Comsat since its inception in 1963. To him that "several hundred million" is just the beginning. Charyk knows how to double the money, at least.

He is convinced that people would make many more overseas telephone calls if everyone spoke the same language. Because they don't, Charyk is fascinated by a way that they might. He is committed to the development of a little black box that could be attached to a telephone. The device would translate any conversation into another language. Charyk calls it an electronic digital translator. You speak into the telephone in English and it comes out Italian in Turin.

"I would say that the number of calls would double if this device were available," Charyk says. But of course it isn't, not just yet. "First we have to come up with a rare commodity, a good linguist who has a knowledge of the shades of meaning and roots in language, a clear understanding of the history and culture behind a language, and the ability to build software."

Not that not finding such a person has stopped development of the translator. "A number of the big computer companies are working on the device today," Charyk says. He is quite cautious about saying much more than that. He will not, for example, say exactly what firms are fiddling with the idea. "It is in the developmental stages and primitive translating devices are already in use."

Comsat, Charyk says, is not involved with the development of the device directly, but is designing a system to transmit the digitalized signal for translators. Comsat has invested at least $250 million to develop a "wide-band digital system network," Charyk says.

Sophisticated translators, he predicts, might not be available before the end of the century, and international corporations would be likely first customers. He believes that eventually a traveler will put a translator in his ear and instantly understand foreign languages.

Anne Behrens is a member of The Magazine staff. graphics/ 1 photo: James Charyk Communications R2D2's Brother With the right black box, we could all speak the same language By Anne Behrens

The soft, lush lounge chairs in Joseph Charyk's office are the deep blue that astronauts see where thin atmosphere melds into near space, an orbital blue. The requisite glass wall offers a spectacular look at wet memorials, their marble slicked by rain. Above the weather, much higher, up 23,000 miles, the sun is shining, shining on those amazing little moneymakers that made this office possible--the geosynchronous-orbit relay satellites that make the Communications Satellite Corp. (Comsat) profitable.

These days the yearly business in overseas phone calls that Comsat satellites handle is worth "several hundred million dollars," says chairman Charyk, 63, who had headed Comsat since its inception in 1963. To him that "several hundred million" is just the beginning. Charyk knows how to double the money, at least.

He is convinced that people would make many more overseas telephone calls if everyone spoke the same language. Because they don't, Charyk is fascinated by a way that they might. He is committed to the development of a little black box that could be attached to a telephone. The device would translate any conversation into another language. Charyk calls it an electronic digital translator. You speak into the telephone in English and it comes out Italian in Turin.

"I would say that the number of calls would double if this device were available," Charyk says. But of course it isn't, not just yet. "First we have to come up with a rare commodity, a good linguist who has a knowledge of the shades of meaning and roots in language, a clear understanding of the history and culture behind a language, and the ability to build software."

Not that not finding such a person has stopped development of the translator. "A number of the big computer companies are working on the device today," Charyk says. He is quite cautious about saying much more than that. He will not, for example, say exactly what firms are fiddling with the idea. "It is in the developmental stages and primitive translating devices are already in use."

Comsat, Charyk says, is not involved with the development of the device directly, but is designing a system to transmit the digitalized signal for translators. Comsat has invested at least $250 million to develop a "wide-band digital system network," Charyk says.

Sophisticated translators, he predicts, might not be available before the end of the century, and international corporations would be likely first customers. He believes that eventually a traveler will put a translator in his ear and instantly understand foreign languages.