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The Earth From Space

The History of Earth Imaging

John Lindsay
Fall 2015


JR Jensen Chapter 3

Where are we today?

  • The state of Earth imaging today has resulted from a remarkable level of advancement in many fields
    • Photographic imaging
    • Digital imaging
    • Human flight
    • Rocket science and space exploration
    • Computing technology
    • And many, many others!

Early Advances in Photography

  • 1826: Joseph N. Niepce obtained the first recorded photograph
  • 1839 Louis Daguerre (pronounced Dagair) introduced the ‘daguerreotype’ a.k.a. ‘tintype’
  • Disadvantages of the tintype:
    • long exposure times
    • no way to reproduce images
    • dangerous chemicals used in film processing
Early photograph
1826: First photographic image by Joseph Niepce of his estate courtyard, Paris.
Early photograph
1838: Daguerre’s photograph of a busy street in Paris, mid-day. Where are all the people?
Early photograph
1850: Louis Daguerre family portrait

Further advances in photography

  • 1841 Talbot's calotype process produced an image using paper negatives.
  • 1851 Frederick Archer’s wet-plate process used glass plates.
  • 1871 Richard Maddox invented dry plates using flexible gelatin-based emulsion.
  • 1885 George Eastman introduced celluloid roll film.
  • 1888 Eastman's portable Kodak camera introduced.

Early experiments in aerial photography and mapping

  • 1858 Gaspard-Felix Tournachon (Nadar) took the first aerial photograph from a balloon.
  • 1860 Joseph W. Black took the first air photo of North America (Boston) from a balloon.
  • 1886 Canadian E.G.D. Deville maps from terrestrial photographs. Publishes Photographic Surveying in 1889.
Nadar photograph
Boston aerial photograph
1860: Air photo of Boston, taken from a balloon by James W. Black
First Canadian aerial photograph
1883: First recorded air photo in Canada, of the Halifax Citadel, taken from a balloon.
Pigeon photograph
Early flight
WWI flight

The golden era of aerial photography

  • Air photos became a mainstay of earth observation from the 1930s to the 1970s
  • Used extensively for topographic mapping applications, forestry, mineral exploration, agricultural status, urban development, disaster assessment, and reconnaissance.
U2 spy plane
Lockheed U-2 spy plane
Global Hawk drone
RQ-4 Global Hawk, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)
Modern commercial unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)
Top Gun Top Gun today
A dinosaur of the past? The future?

Disadvantages to air photos

  • Impractical for covering large areas at once
  • prohibitively expensive for large areas
  • Repeat coverage of large areas are therefore too costly for most applications
  • Individual photos suffer tonal variations so that combining them as mosaics is often problematic

The era of the Earth-observation satellite

  • Satellite images can:
    • Cover large areas in a single image
    • Image the entire globe
    • Carry out repeat coverage with ease
ASTER image
Nobel photo Goddard
Alfred Nobel (1897): First image taken from a rocket Robert Goddard (1926) First liquid-fuel rocket
V2 rocket
The Americans experimented with the Nazi V-2 rocket design after WWII
Earth image
The Cold War contributed greatly to the development of remote sensing

The Landsat Program

Landsat program timeline Aral sea time series

Developments in imaging technology

  • Black & White film
  • Infrared film (~1930s & 1940s)
  • Colour film in aerial photography (1950s)
  • Radar (~1950s)
  • 1969 Willard Boyle and George E. Smith invent the CCD
  • Multispectral imaging (1960s)
  • Hyperspectral imaging (space-based as of 2000)