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Satellite Sends Wake-Up Call

Millions of people affected by a satellite glitch will have to make do until the end of the week, when a satellite that lost track of Earth Tuesday is expected to be fixed.

Although some service has been restored, many people must get their information the old-fashioned way.

When pagers and other satellite-driven technology went on the blink, the problem took the nation by surprise. The loss of information once taken for granted made Americans realize how dependent society has become on instant communication.

Last week, PanAmSat, the company that owns the troubled Galaxy IV satellite, told the government they were having some technical difficulties. But PanAmSat now claims Tuesday's meltdown is unrelated.

So, instead of waiting for their pages to beep, people stayed close to the phone. Instead of paying at the pump with a credit card, customers walked inside to pay the gas station attendant.(The pumps depend on Galaxy IV to transmit credit card information for approval.)

On its part, PanAmSat immediately began shifting signals onto its other satellites, but said Wednesday that it will take about a week to restore service to everyone.

Nearly 45 million pagers went on the blink Tuesday. Radio and TV broadcasts also were affected by the satellite trouble.
The $250-million communications satellite, now orbiting the Earth, is supposed to relay messages.

The pager problem affected people in various professions, from surgeons who await emergency calls, to actors hoping for good news from their agents.

"Professionals like us, we rely a lot on this system. So it's scary," one doctor told CBS News Correspondent Diane Olick.

The Salvation Army used ham radio operators to keep in touch with pager-less firefighters and Red Cross officials as they helped 100 people displaced by a fire near Boston.

PanAmSat said that it does not know why the computer system failed, but that it has virtually ruled out sabotage or the possibility that the satellite was hit by something in space.

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, William Kennard, said the agency would look into what went wrong.

U.S. businesses rely on more than 200 communications satellites that are orbiting Earth. The unexpected glitch is only a wake-up call for those who took the convenience of the latest technology for granted.

But satellite experts are looking ahead to November, when a massive meteor shower may hit the atmosphere and possibly damage more satellites. They hope to learn how to prevent the satellite outage from happening again.