The advancement of space technologies has done a great amount for us here on Earth and it very much all began with the very first images of our planet taken by astronauts of the Apollo Moon program and those sent back by the Voyager and Galileo spacecraft on their journey to other planets in the Solar System. These images have made us realize not just how small Earth is on the grand scale of our solar neighbourhood and beyond but also how delicate it is.
The development of satellites has aided our life on Earth greatly from those used for transmitting TV and telephone signals and satellite navigation systems (such as those used by cars and aeroplanes) to satellites that orbit our planet allowing us to not only take a closer look at its features but giving us an insight on how best to take care of it. Satellites have allowed us to study oceans, the atmosphere, clouds, weather, rainforests, deserts, cities, ice sheets and just about everything else on, and even within, our planet.
The exploration of space is also becoming global. More nations are now within reach of space than ever before, while the influx of entrepreneurial capital is driving innovation and new technologies in the private sector.
What excites me most about space technologies is that it’s an opportunity for us to put the best of humanity forward into the future. It enables international cooperation, courage, boldness, and entrepreneurship. We are doing things for the benefit of the planet.
We live on the spaceship Earth. Space technologies help us understand our mothership. The climate, peace and security, energy issues: these are all things space technologies can play a key role in.
Trans-oceanic telephone messages can be sent by underwater cable, but cables are expensive and difficult to repair, just like satellites. Also, cables are point-to-point routes. A satellite can receive from or broadcast anywhere. Imagine communications in the Arctic – small communities, long distances. Satellites work better there than cables would. International internet traffic also uses satellites among other methods. TV news is full of video from around the world – even live communications from video-equipped telephones have been used on TV news (during the initial invasion of Iraq, for instance). Businesses also transmit huge amounts of data – think about using a credit card in another country. So every time you use or watch any of these services you are probably linking through space, at least for part of the process.
Having satellites tracking the weather has also come in handy by keeping a close eye on dangerous weather systems, such as the recent Hurricane Sandy, as they develop giving people enough time to prepare and even evacuate vulnerable areas. They have also allowed us to study our oceans which have been found to store abundant amounts of heat which in turn affect the weather, causing heavy rain in some parts of the world whilst drought in others.
The climate change mentioned above is just part of this subject. Satellites can photograph any place on Earth at intervals of a few days or weeks. They are ideally suited to large area surveys. So they monitor natural hazards (floods, forest fires, volcanic eruptions etc. – for instance to warn planes to avoid a volcanic ash cloud or to spot fires in remote areas). They help with environmental inventories – how much forest is logged or burned in the Amazon basin? They can track pollution in water or air over large areas, including oil spills, observe erosion on coasts or river banks, and help enforce regulatory compliance if a resource is being overused.
Article by: Busayo Tomoh