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Pigeons to Payloads: Introducing Remote Sensing. http:// www.unc.edu/courses/2006fall/geog/477/001/www /. Geography 477: 24 August 2006. Synoptic – Unified View of the Whole Repeatable – Observe Dynamic Processes Information Rich – Massive Inferential Power

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pigeons to payloads introducing remote sensing

Pigeons to Payloads: Introducing Remote Sensing


Geography 477: 24 August 2006


Synoptic –

Unified View of the Whole

Repeatable –

Observe Dynamic Processes

Information Rich –

Massive Inferential Power

Geolocated & Spatially Complete


Father of Modern Rocketry – Robert Goddard

After 17 years of theoretical and experimental work, Goddard achieved the first successful flight of a liquid-fueled rocket on March 26, 1926. The rocket flew 184 feet in 2.5 seconds and landed in a cabbage patch on his Aunt Effie's farm in Auburn, Massachusetts.


Rough Sequence of Events – Space Imagery

  • Rockets
  • Satellites
  • Space Studies
  • Communications
  • Weather
  • Earth Science – Land, Atmosphere, Ocean
  • Mapping & Surveying

Vanguard 1; 1958

First Solar Powered Earth Orbiting Satellite

6,431,8??,??? Miles so far. Oldest man made object in space

Sputnik I Sputnik II Explorer (US) Vanguard I


Chronology of Sputnik/Vanguard/Explorer Events 1957-58 

October 4, 1957 USSR: Sputnik 1 (83.6 kg) 

November 3 USSR: Sputnik 2 (508.3 kg), Dog Laika as passenger 

December 6 USA: Vanguard TV-3 explodes on launch pad 

January 31, 1958 USA: Explorer 1 (14 kg), first US satellite,

discovers Van Allen radiation belts 

February 3 USSR: First try to launch Sputnik 3 fails 

February 5 USA: A second Vanguard try fails 

March 5 USA: Explorer 2 fails to orbit 

March 17 USA: Vanguard 1 (1.47 kg) successfully orbits, establishes

the pear-shapedness of the Earth 

March 26 USA: Explorer 3 orbits, collects radiation and micrometeoroid data 

April 28 USA: Another Vanguard fails to orbit (third failure) 

May 15 USSR: Sputnik 3 (1,327 kg) orbits, carrying large array

of scientific instruments, but tape recorder fails.

May 27 USA Vanguard fails for the fourth time 

June 26 USA Vanguard fails for fifth time

July 26 USA Explorer 4 orbits and maps Van Allen radiation belts

August 24 USA Explorer 5 fails to orbit 

September 26 USA Vanguard fails for the sixth time


April 1960: TIROS (Television and Infrared Observational Satellite) – Nine additional TIROS satellites subsequently launched through 1965.

  • August 1964: NIMBUS 1 – Meteorological satellites with 3-axis stabilization, allowed sensors to continuously point towards Earth.
  • First sun-synchronous satellites.  
  • Six more Nimbus satellites subsequently launched through 1978
  • provided continuous coverage of the earth for the first time.

Current NOAA polar orbiting satellites are daughters of Nimbus.


1972 – Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS-1) Launched and christened Landsat - MSS




KH (keyhole) Cameras

August 1960-1972 about 145 Missions

Resolutions progress from tens of feet to inches

GAMBIT 1963-1984 up to 6 inch resolution

HEXAGON (18 Launched)



MidAirRetrieval until 1976


Other Leaks

1980 KH11 photos left behind during botched Iran Hostage Rescue Mission

1984 Accidental publication of KH9 data in congressional hearing


“The Blue Marble" Photo of Earth taken on 7 December1972 by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft at a distance of about 45,000 kilometers or about 28,000 miles. [1]. It is one of the most widely distributed photographic images in existence. The image is one of the few to show a fully lit Earth, as the astronauts had the Sun behind them when they took the image. To the astronauts, Earth had the size and appearance of a child's glass marble.