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Geographic Information Systems (GIS) & Geospatial Resources

History of Remote Sensing

Map of Chesapeake Bay created from satellite imaging

USGS/NASA. Chesapeake Bay and vicinity, winter 1976-77, satellite image map : NASA LANDSAT-1, 1:500,000. 1978. Geography & Map Division.

The modern field of remote sensing, in which the earth's features are studied, imaged, and measured from a distance, can be traced back to the "space races" of the Cold War. The world's first satellite (Sputnik 1) was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957 and was followed by the United States' Explorer 1 satellite in 1960. The earliest satellites measured the upper atmosphere, magnetic storms, cloud cover, and radiation. By the mid-1960s, interest grew in going beyond the use of satellites for weather observation and turned toward the possibilities of imaging the earth's terrain.

In 1972, a joint program between NASA and USGS launched Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS), later renamed Landsat 1, the very first satellite designed to study the Earth itself. Landsat 1 imaged most of the world's terrain, and the Multi-Spectral Scanner on board recorded digital image data. Though forms of aerial imagery had been around for a century, the invention of satellites with digital scanners allowed for new forms of imagery and remotely-sensed information which created new methods for analyzing and understanding our changing world. The Geography & Map Division's History of Computer Cartography and Geographic Information Sciences Archive collects materials collects personal papers, records, calculations, models, and maps from key figures in the founding and development of early satellite imaging and remote sensing.

Alden Colvocoresses Collection

Alden Colvocoresses worked for the United States Geological Survey on the Landsat satellite program, where he contributed to the development of the Space Oblique Mercator projection. He conceptualized the need for the Space Oblique Mercator projection, which should incorporate a dimension of relative motion, the mathematics of which were ultimately solved by John P. Snyder in consultation with Colvocoresses. The Colvocoresses collection consists of various materials relating to Landsat and early satellite mapping. It includes correspondence, memos, reference reprints, books, globe and satellite model of the Space Oblique Mercator projection for Landsat (31 cm.), globe and satellite model of the orbit of MAPSAT (31 cm.), various publications relating to Landsat and satellite mapping from 1950-2004, papers and reports on the use of Landsat for shallow sea charting, projection and gridding reports concerning the development of cartographic applications for Landsat images, early original Landsat photographs, early experimental Landsat image maps, Landsat data users manual, and biographical materials relating to the life of Dr. Colvocoresses including an autobiography, newspaper clippings, patents and awards.

John P. Snyder Collection

The John Parr Snyder collection consists of various materials relating to map projections and the studies of John Parr Snyder. Snyder derived the equations for the USGS's Space Oblique Mercator projection, making it possible to transform Landsat satellite imagery into maps, beginning with Landsat 4. The Snyder collection includes correspondence (including correspondence with Waldo Tobler and correspondence with Arthur Robinson critiquing the Peters projection), mathematical and projection studies, published and unpublished manuscripts, original computer programs, Snyder's original calculators (TI-56 and TI-59) and accompanying magnetic tape programs, map projection, mathematical and general scientific reference reprints, slides, transparencies, and 1 paper celestial globe on wooden stand (22 cm.)

Gary W. North Collection

Gary W. North was born June 24, 1939 and died October 29, 2013. In 1962, he was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force and served four years active duty, after which he worked as a civilian for the Air Force. He also worked for Raytheon Corporation. North was hired by the U.S. Geological Survey, where he worked for more than 30 years. The collection consists of 13 remote-sensing maps of locations in the United States, 1 remote-sensing map of the Amazon Basin, and 7 illustrations concerning the NASA Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS-1), which became known as Landsat 1.