Singapore from Space - 40 years
By Mok Ly Yng, 9th August 2005

First posted to the Singapore Heritage Mailing List.

Click to view a larger view of the map mosaic
For individual views,
see the Flickr album (posted, 06 Feb 2006)

Hi Everyone,

Today, 9th August 2005, is the 40th National Day of the Republic of Singapore. Singapore became an independent sovereign country in 1965. Singapore is at latitude 1°18' N and longitude 103°51' E.

For the past 8 years I have been collecting images of Singapore as taken from space both on and off the web. 'Space' is defined as an altitude greater than 80 km (USA) or 100 km (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale). Incidentally, civil aviation takes place within the troposphere, about 10-13 km at the poles and 16-18 km around the equator. [12 km = 39,370.0787 feet; 30,000 feet = 9.14400 km]

In July 2004, I decided to put together a collage of these images in preparation for the 40th ND. The year passed by like a flash and the work was only completed late last night.

The focus is from 1965 to 2005, a full 40 years. I have managed to find one photograph taken in March 1965. So, I decided to have an image taken exactly 40 years later in March 2005. A few were found and I chose the one taken on the 25th March 2005, just two days short of the 27th. Most photos and images were filled with clouds and associated shadows. Availability of images determined the final cut-off dates. It would have been ideal and perfect to have both 'then' and 'now' images taken in August 1995 and 2005. But one in March is better than none at all. :)

"Singapore from Space - 40 years."
By Mok Ly Yng, 9th August 2005.
Click to see the original image.

To the collage.

1963 Black and White CORONA (02 Apr 1963) [SGP40-Image 1 & 2]

The first two images are actually the FIRST ever known photographs of Singapore as taken from space. The two are a 'stereopair', the left image is the 'Aft' camera while the right the 'Fore'. Stereo photographs allow for the determination of height through 'parallax'.

An earlier mission took a similar frame but only clouds could be seen. So, the second mission's photos became the first 'visible' ones of Singapore. I had wanted to write a separate story on this first space images of Singapore but did not get to complete it. The story is intriguing and long.

All of the black/white images are actual photographs captured on film by special satellites designed for hi-altitude photography. They were part of the super secret CORONA project's KeyHole (KH) programme. The project and products were declassified by President Clinton starting in 1995 and is still ongoing. These first space photos of Singapore were taken during mission KH-4.

Singapore had routine air photos taken during those days. The purpose of taking photos from space then was to calibrate the cameras and other systems onboard the satellite and systems.

Note the date of photography. They were taken on 2nd April 1963. Malaysia was formed on 16th September 1963. Hence Singapore was at that time still the State of Singapore, a self-ruling British colony.


1965 Black and White CORONA (27 Mar 1965) [SGP40-Image 3]

Now the 27th March 1965 photograph. This was also taken with stereo cameras on mission KH-4A. When this photo was taken, Singapore was still part of Malaysia.

Both these sets of photos had ground resolution of 25 feet (~7.6 m). Do not be misled by the quality of these catalogue browsing scans.

1973 Landsat (USA) [SGP40-Image 4] - from CRISP, NUS.

Next, the 1973 Landsat (USA) image of Singapore. This is one of the earliest images from the NASA Landsat programme, which was first launched in July 1972. In this collage, this is the first post-independence image of Singapore, note the massive development in the Jurong area (west) and the East Coast reclamation.

1976 Black and White CORONA (07 & 21 Aug 1976) [SGP40-Image 5]

The 1976 b/w photo following was taken during KH-7, by then the system had been much improved. This was taken with a specialised camera designed for map-making purposes (cartographic camera). The left and right halves were taken on the 7th and 21st August 1976, respectively.

1985 - 2005 Satellites (SPOT, Landsat and IKONOS) and Astronauts (STS, ISS) [SGP40-Images 6-16]

  • 1985 Landsat MSS (28 Oct 1985) [6]
  • 1986 SPOT [7] - from CRISP, NUS.
  • 1989 Landsat TM (17 Jun 1989) [8]
  • 1992 Landsat TM (14 Apr 1992) [9]
  • 1996 STS 080 (Space Shuttle Columbia, handheld camera, 20 Nov 1996) [10]
  • 1998 SPOT [11] - from CRISP, NUS.
  • 2002 Landsat ETM (02 Apr 2002) [12] - part of a free data set which was donated by Silicon Graphics a few years ago.
  • 2004 Landsat ETM (09 May 2004) [13]
  • 2004 ISS 009 (International Space Station, handheld camera, 21 Jun 2004) [14]
  • 2005 IKONOS (25 Jan 2005) [15]
  • 2005 SPOT5 (25 Mar 2005) [16]

For the rest of the images, SPOT is a French system, with the latest SPOT5 in the series. IKONOS is a USA hi-resolution system, with images of up to 1 m ground resolution.

I have chosen a few representative 'colours' and dates from these other satellite systems.

The Space Shuttle Discovery is scheduled to return to Earth later in the day (9th Aug). The image dated 20th Nov 1996 was taken with a handheld camera on film stock by astrounauts aboard STS080. STS080 was the 7th and last shuttle mission of 1996, and the 21st mission of the Space Shuttle Columbia.

The one below it (dated 21st June 2004) was taken during International Space Station mission 009. This was also captured on film by astrounauts with handheld camera.

In order to save on space and filesize, I have left out many other images from other satellites, such as the Japanese MOS and latest MODIS/ASTER, Canada's RadarSat, NASA Shutter Radar Topographic Mission's digital terrain data, and a few other more technical ones. At the end, the priority was to have a feel of the passage of time from 1965 to 2005, not the evolution and development of the imaging technology itself.

Forty years represent two demographic generations. Go through the images and see if you can pick out the visible changes both in Singapore and her immediate surroundings over these 40 years.

Have a wonderful 40th National Day!

Best wishes,
Mok Ly Yng


Thanks to Mok Ly Yng for sharing this with everyone, and Chua Ai Lin, the List Owner of Singapore Heritage Mailing List for forwarding this email and providing the medium for exchanges like this. - Ed.

See also: