DARPA Celebrates Internet's 40th Anniversary With Balloon Hunt

"In the 40 years since this breakthrough, the Internet has become an integral part of society and the global economy," said Dr. Regina E. Dugan, director of DARPA, in a statement. "The DARPA Network Challenge explores the unprecedented ability of the Internet to bring people together to solve tough problems."

After registering on Dec. 1 at a DARPA Web site, participants will attempt to locate 10 large, red weather balloons that DARPA will place in undisclosed U.S. locations. The first person to identify the location of all the balloons will win a $40,000 cash prize. The eight-foot balloons will be positioned on December 5, be visible during daylight hours and be accessible by main roadways. Those interested can follow the contest at DARPA's Twitter page.

DARPA was created in 1958 as the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The Internet began as an idea to link time-sharing computers into a national system. Back on Oct. 29, 1969, the first message was sent over ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet. The transmission was at at 10:30 p.m. PST, between the University of California in Los Angeles and the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, Calif. The month before, the two computers were networked together.

ARPA's plan was to create an early-warning network to guard against a Soviet nuclear bomber attack, in which all the radar surveillance, target tracking and other operations would be coordinated by computers.

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The initial project would eventually result in a continent-spanning system of 23 centers that each housed up to 50 human radar operators, plus two redundant real-time computers capable of tracking up to 400 airplanes at once. That system would also include the world's first long-distance network, which enabled the computers to transfer data among the 23 centers via telephone lines.