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Digital Imaging in Space

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How and why digital imaging rose in outer space.

How and why digital imaging rose in outer space.

Published in: Technology, Art & Photos

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  • 1. Digital Imaging in Space
  • 2. Christian Sandström holds a PhD from ChalmersUniversity of Technology, Sweden. He writes and speaks about disruptive innovation and technological change.
  • 3. This is the first image ever transmitted from Mars and back home to earth.
  • 4. Some of the first applications of digital imaging back in the1970s were used in outer space.
  • 5. The Viking Lander 1 took thefirst picture from the surface of Mars on July 20 1976.
  • 6. After an 11 month journey, it couldfinally land in the region called Chryse Planitia.
  • 7. The Viking Lander 1 took the first picture from the surface of Mars on July 20 1976.
  • 8. About 4500 images were taken and many of them are so good they’re still used today.
  • 9. Well, it couldn’t be aHasselblad this time. (Photo taken at theNasa space center inHuntsville, Alabama)
  • 10. But what cameras were used?A film camera required people and besides, the film needed to be brought back.
  • 11. As the Viking Lander was not going to return to earth, a different technology was needed.
  • 12. In order to send the images back toearth, the photos needed to be digital.
  • 13. Back in those days, the image sensor(CCD) had just been invented and the quality was still poor.
  • 14. Therefore, a kind of scanning technique was used.
  • 15. A photodiode was used. It is a kind of photodetector that can convert light into current or voltage.
  • 16. The ’camera’ had a rotating tube with a mirror going up and down, sending a continuous stream of light down to an array of 12 pixels.
  • 17. So each picture was built up continuously, row by row and eventually, a pretty good image had been constructed.
  • 18. That’s how the first iconic photos of Mars were taken using digital imaging.
  • 19. Interestingly, some of the early drawbacks of digital imaging have created an incorrect idea about the colours of Mars.
  • 20. When light goes through various colourfilters, an inaccurate image may be created.
  • 21. Therefore, many of those images had an excessive orange nuance.
  • 22. And when the images came back to earth, there was simply no time to correct this.
  • 23. Needless to say, the images were quickly distributed all over the world.
  • 24. Terry Pratchett once said something like ‘the lie has come halfway around the planet before the truth has puts on its shoes’.
  • 25. So the myth survives, and lives on.
  • 26. The photos of Mars can serve as anillustration of the early drawbacks of digital imaging and the shortcomings of society.
  • 27. Apart from the minor shortcomings of digital imaging, the Viking Lander was very successful.
  • 28. The Lander exceeded its lifetimewith some 90 days and worked for about six years.
  • 29. It’s interesting to see how the first applications of digital imaging were in fact very advanced.
  • 30. This seems to be the case with most digital technologies.
  • 31. The first electronic calculators were called scientific calculators,and were only used in very extremesettings, suchas NASA and different military applications.
  • 32. The first transistor radio technology back in the early 1950swas primarily used in the US Military.
  • 33. Given that digital technology is initially very expensive it has often been nurtured in these kind of segmentswhich are not senstitive to the price tag.
  • 34. In addition to this, it has often brought in new performance attributes that were crucial in this particular application (like the cameras used on Mars).
  • 35. As the price went down over time and the performanceincreased, these products reached the mass markets later on.
  • 36. Today, we have much morepixels in a simple point and shoot camera thanNASA had when exploring space in the 1970s.
  • 37. Sources Larry PerkinsDiscovery Blog Wikipedia
  • 38. Image attributions
  • 39. Find out more:www.christiansandstrom.org