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Eyes in the sky

I admit it; I am a space nut . . .
I have watched much of the STS114 mission on the NASA channel with great interest. Very interesting people, great images, drama, patriotism and high adventure combine to enthrall us all. Click here for another fascinating cosmic “eye in the sky” image. Or choose “Today’s Astronomy Picture of the Day” here.

The following story on environmental damage was what prompted me to prepare this post on what eyes in the sky can do:
“NASA Shuttle Commander Eileen Collins sees environmental damage from STS114.” Commander Collins has often referred to earth as our “beautiful planet,” thus her environmental reference is not out of character. Astronauts almost universally come to this view through their flight experiences.
We must remember that NASA is a multifunction agency. In addition to the Hubbel telescope, the earth’s environment has been given special attention by NASA with their Aura satellite. Read about it in this 12/20/04 BBC article, “Eye in the sky watches over air.” It includes a number of fascinating earth environment images.

My web search to prepare for this post yielded 167,000 hits for “eye in the sky.” One of the first was the Alan Parsons Project 1982 album “Eye in the Sky.”

In so many ways we really must love that phrase. And it has a variety of very different meanings, some not nearly as benign as music or space. The phrase, for example, also refers to national security, surveillance of people, or getting the overhead view.

  • The Times of India reports that the government of India uses overhead imagery to discover instances of illegal construction.
  • The United States and Great Britain are very much interested in dealing with things that scare us – and people that scare us – more than space flight. The Cato Institute held a policy forum on 1/24/02 that focused on federal surveillance of ordinary Americans called “Eye in the Sky and Everywhere Else.” A July 23,2005 CNN program headlined, “Pressure rises for more cameras in U.S. Privacy advocates question effectiveness of security.” And the BBC site reported, on 8/2/05, about the question of whether their tube stations security system meets performance standards. Cameras positioned along the streets of London are not always used for national security. The BBC reports that CCTV workers were arrested on voyeurism charges in this 5/19/05 article. For another issue that scares us, porous borders, look at this Bravo.net camera network located at the International Bridge near Laredo, Texas on the Mexico border.
  • On the business front, the Christian Science Monitor published an excellent article on 8/3/05 discussing the fact that security cameras are back in demand. This entrepeneurial blogger, Bruce Schneirer, writes on 7/12/05 about “surveillance cameras and terrorism.” And his homepage offers a novel idea about piping in classical music to a public area to discourage loitering!
  • In both the public and private realms, aerial photography has been around for some time. The current darling – the next generation – really is a series of eyes in the skies. Think of all the imagery, mapping, etc., available as a result of the Global Positioning Satellite system. These two types can have either peaceful or wartime applications.

On a lighter note and back in space, Saturday morning, Eileen Collins reported that she and her crew were amazed at how very bright the Southern Aurora lights in the sky looked to them. Mission Control told the shuttle crew it was because these Southern Lights were particularly active right now due to solar activity.

NASA’s employees had their eyes on the sky using so very many sophisticated different technological methods. But many just stepped outside to eyeball the sky as the shuttle streaked overhead. I am eyeballing my TV at the moment seeing the NBC image of the shuttle passing over Texas. I imagine the folks from Houston Mission Control were out on the lawn again, like little kids trying to catch a glympse fo Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.
And have some dessert. One of my premier cosmic “big picture” resources has always been the National Geographic. And (surprise-surprise) they have a website called Eye in the Sky. Why not make them a visit?

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