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Aug 9, 1991: The First E-Mail... FROM SPACE
A Macintosh Portable, a modified modem, and a few rounds of "turn it off and on again".
August 09, 2023
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Friday.  August, 9th.  1991.

The crew of STS-43 -- the 9th mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis -- sent the first E-Mail... from outer space.

Here is the entire (Guinness World Record) E-Mail:

"Hello Earth ! Greetings from the STS-43 Crew. This is the first Applelink from space. Having a GREAT time, wish you were here,… send cryo,and RCS! Have a nice day…… Hasta la vista, baby,… we’ll be back!"

An official Apple support document for this event included the following tidbits to clarify some of the lingo:

"cry = cryogenics (meaning, send more fuel for life support--air, etc.)
RCS = Reaction Control System (meaning, send more fuel for maneuvering/control) In other words, they wanted to stay up there!"

And, yes. That email included variations on Arnold Schwarzenegger's catchphrases -- "Hasta la vista, baby,... we'll be back!" -- from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which had opened in theaters just the month before the shuttle mission.

How the first Space E-Mail was sent

That E-Mail was written by Shannon Lucid and James C. Adamson (with Shannon Lucid believed to be at the keyboard), with some assistance from Dave Crego (an Apple engineer on the ground).  The recipient of the E-Mail being Marcia Ivins, Shuttle Communicator at Johnson Space Center.

The computer used was a Macintosh Portable (the first laptop from Apple).

For the most part, this particular Macintosh Portable was a stock unit.  With two notable modifications:

  • Engineers at Apple made a modification to the modem in order to accomodate the incredibly lengthy packet delays when using a modem.  You know.  From Space.
  • NASA engineers also modified the battery system.  According to Apple, "we believe a circuit breaker was added to meet the safety requirements and regulations for personal gear transported into space."

The software used was AppleLink -- an On-Line Service from Apple primarily used by Apple dealers, software developers, and enthusiasts.  Based on the date, it seems highly likely that this would have been using AppleLink version 6.1.

About page of AppleLink version 6.1

Now, technically, AppleLink didn't call their messages "E-Mails".  They called them "Memos".  But, really, they were the same thing.  And this is what composing one of those messages looked like.

The AppleLink 6.1 New Memo composing window

If you were an astronaut, in 1991, this is exactly how you would have E-Mailed.  Cool, right?

And, once you hit "Send", this is the window you would be presented with.

The AppleLink 6.1 Send Memo window

While this was the first E-Mail sent from Space... it took a few tries to get it to work.

  1. On the first try an error saying "The modem pool is not responding" appeared.  This was, apparently, caused by a data switching system going to sleep.  So they restarted that data switching system.
  2. On the second try... the data switching system... had not restarted properly.  It needed another round of "Turn it off and back on again."  Seriously.
  3. But the third try... that one worked!  The E-Mail sent!  From Space!

Reportedly the signal between the Space Shuttle and the Satelite (where the call was being routed) was very weak... so the connection was lost after only "a couple of minutes".  Just the same, the E-Mail was sent!

Here is the awesome crew that made E-Mail history.

The crew of STS-43 (left to right): Mission Specialist (MS) Shannon W. Lucid, MS James C. Adamson, Commander John E. Blaha, MS G. David Low, and Pilot Michael A. Baker.

Despite making history, the AppleLink service would shut down, just 3 years later, in 1994... with the launch of Apple's short-lived "eWorld" service.

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