Saturday, August 8, 2009

50 YA - Explorer VI

Couldn't get to blog yesterday, so I'm off by a day- arrrgggg!
August 7, 1959 - NASA launched a Thor-Able III rocket and placed EXPLORER VI in orbit. Nicknamed "The PaddleWheel Satellite" after it's appearance, the satellite beamed crude pictures of the Earth's surface and cloud cover back to scientists. Fourteen experiments were on the craft.

First crude TV image of Earth from Explorer VI

For me, this was a significant moment in the space program for a couple of reasons. First, of course we have the important first TV image of the Earth from orbit. This was an important milestone in shaping our current understanding of the Earth by taking our "eyes" from the flat horizon to the eventual understanding of the Earth as a small, some say fragile, outpost of life in the great big universe. This view will culminate with the famous Apollo 8 photo of the Earth rising above the moon. That photo became most famous as an iconic image of the Earth and it's environment, and helped shape a global perception in favor of environmentalism.

Secondly, this was a great step in the progress towards weather satellites and the impact it would have on weather forecasting and public safety. Until satellites could image the vast lonely expanses of the oceans, scientists only could rely on eyewitness reports of storms from pilots and ships that encountered the weather heading toward land and our population centers. Think now how many lives have been saved because we have advanced warning of hurricanes and typhoons, thanks to our robotic sentinels in the sky. That alone is worth the price of the space program.

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