World Space Week 2007: Space at 50

By Mok Ly Yng, 11 Oct 2007

Hi everyone,

This is a belated announcement of the World Space Week (WSW) 2007, which lasted from 04 to 10 October this year. The World Space Week is an annual event which is coordinated by the United Nations and participation is voluntary.

This year's World Space Week is significant as the year 2007 marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Space Age, with the successful launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik on 04 Oct 1957.

For Star Trek fans (or just viewers), you'll recognise the opening line: 'Space: the final frontier...' Coincidentally, this year (2007) marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, which lasted from 1987 to 1994.

The October 2007 issue of the National Geographic magazine (the one with the yellow border) has a story entitled 'Space The Next Generation' to mark the anniversary.

In Singapore, the English-language daily The Straits Times had a short note on pg 27 (the F.Y.I. page) on Thu, 04 Oct. Under the 'This day in history' section, it read: SPUTNIK Launch 1957. The Russian satellite Sputnik is launched into space, becoming the first man-made object to leave the Earth's atmosphere.

The next day (Fri, 05 Oct), ST published an article entitled 'Space race widens as more nations rise to the challenge'.

For more information on this anniversary and the World Space Week, please read the following links:

  1. Wikipedia's entry on WSW: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Space_Week.
  2. The official UN site for the WSW:unoosa.org/oosa/wsw/index.html
  3. The official site for the World Space Week event:spaceweek.org
  4. Singapore started marking the WSW in 2005. The Point-of-Contact for Singapore is: spaceweek.org/singapore.html

The perspective of a map man

When people talk about 'Space', we have images of the space race, of astronomy, of other planets and perhaps other alien life forms. The general focus in the mass media is usually these few themes.

But for me, as a 'map man', the advent of the Space Age has huge implications for the surveying and mapping trade (now known as geomatics and geospatial information respectively).

Nowadays, the two most commonly known Space Age 'products' as used by the surveys and mapping industry are the following:

  • Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Remote Sensing (RS) using spaceborne sensors mounted on artificial satellites

Here in Singapore, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) has launched the GPS-based high accuracy service known as SiRENT: sirent.inlis.gov.sg.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) too has a free differential GPS service mpa.gov.sg/portdevelopment/services/dgps.htm. Incidentally, this free DGPS serivce was started on 09 Oct 1997. So, here's another anniversary to note.

As for Remote Sensing (RS), there is the Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (CRISP), which is a research centre of the National University of Singapore (NUS):crisp.nus.edu.sg.

For surveying and mapping purposes, both 2-D and 3-D data can be obtained from space through either GPS or RS technologies. Back in 2005, during the 40th anniversary of Singapore's independence, I prepared some satellite images showing Singapore over the years. Thanks to Otterman, the information can be accessed from the web: Singapore from Space - 40 years : habitatnews.nus.edu.sg/articles/sgp40years/

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Space Age,
I have prepared another set of images [link]

Picasa Web Albums - Ly Yng - Space at 50 :...

For frequent users of Google Earth/Map, Yahoo! Maps and MSN Virtual Map, you'll find this satellite image very familiar. I have added four other colour combinations of the same image in their original resolution--much higher than that as used on Google Earth/Map. A different hi-resolution image is used when you zoom in further in all three applications.

This image was taken on 28 April 2000 by Landsat 7, an Earth Observation Satellite. Landsat 7 had developed an irreparable problem and a replacement is due. It is a passive system, just like our digital cameras, in fact the imaging technology is similar in principle.

The Shuttle Radar Topographic Mission provides the 3-D data. Many thanks to a friend of mine who helped to download the coverage map images on the last day or two while I was attending a 'geoid school' in JB then. It was a happy coincidence to know that the SRTM was operating successfully when the school was in session. When the Space Age just started, Ohio State University in the US became the centre of expertise for the study of 'geodesy'. I think OSU is still one of the major centres in the USA, if not the world. The study of the 'geoid' is a critical part of the discipline of 'physical geodesy' (versus the more traditional 'geometrical geodesy'). The accumulated knowledge of the geoid over the decades had contributed directly to the success of the SRTM.

The SRTM is based on an active system. Radar beams were sent out to the surface of the Earth and the reflected signals collected. The 'void' area over the Central Business District of Singapore is probably due to the density of tall buildings there, causing a lot of noise rather than signal. I don't know what caused the data void over Pulau Ubin and Tekong.

"satellite, prime meridian, zero line!"

Finally, the photo with my Garmin GPS12 handheld receiver was taken sometime in July 1999. I was five minutes late and the main area was closed so I had to settle with placing the GPS receiver on the extension of the meridian strip. I had run all the way from the Greenwich pier past the Cutty Sark up the 'hill' to reach the observatory grounds. A German couple was very curious with what I was doing and the device, I could only utter 'satellite, prime meridian, zero line' as I was totally out of breath by the time I reached there. I was leaving London the very next day so I could not make another trip to the observatory then. But at least I had my GPS receiver 'calibrated' at Greenwich :-)

Saving Lives

To close this story, 2006's WSW theme was 'Saving Lives'. When I was in Australia in 2004-2005, I had the opportunity to visit the WA state remote sensing centre. They told us a story about the unintended usefulness of RS technology. Someone or a group of people was reported lost somewhere in the interior of Western Australia. The last known location was close to a certain aborigine reserve site. As they have a 'hot-spot' watch for bush fires, someone had an idea and proposed to watch for any unusual pattern of 'hot-spot' near or within the last reported site. The satelllite images are updated daily. Sure enough, the method worked, a certain spot was observed to be moving in a particular patterrn over a couple of days. Rescue teams were despatched and the lost party was found safely. The lost party had been building fires to keep themselves warm at night.

In Singapore, the response to participate in the WSW has been rather poor. But I remember Singapore aims to be a SpacePort or something. This prompted me to write this story. At least to raise the general awareness of this international event: the World Space Week.

I hope this story and the images are of some interest. Thank you for your time and attention.

Live Long and Prosper!
Mok LY

[Technical info: all images are on the UTM projection (WGS84 datum), processed with Global Mapper software.]

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