Last updated: December 1, 2008 - 9:35am
This month, a satellite resembling a shiny spinning drum and orbiting 21,156 miles above Earth celebrated its 41st birthday, astounding engineers and scientists, some of them the children of those who built it. For years, the satellite has served as an emergency communications link for rescue operations, including the 1985 Mexico City earthquake and the 1980 Mt. St. Helens volcanic eruption. It was supposed to live for only three years when it was launched in 1967. But the spacecraft, known as ATS 3, isn't alone. Many satellites are operating well past their life expectancy, so much so that manufacturers are hurting from lack of demand for new, replacement satellites. And those who are buying are asking for guarantees that the new satellites, which can cost as much as $300 million each, will last two to three times as long as the early birds.