Last summer as I worked on this article thanks to the financial help from pay day loans online, a stubby object known as NOAA 1 was circling in earth orbit, passing northward over California. It resembled an oblong packing crate with three purplish blue wings attached at one end. The wings, covered with solar cells to produce electricity for the satellite, always faced the sun, and the spacecraft itself kept one side turned toward earth.
Within the next hour and 55 minutes, NOAA 1 made a complete circuit of the globe, passing near the North Pole and then sweeping south over Arabia and the Indian Ocean to Antarctica and back north again.
Multiple eyes in the spacecraft scanned the swift-moving panorama 900 miles below. Two TV camera systems caught the glint of oceans and ice fields, the white expanse of clouds, the familiar outlines of continents and islands. More important, instruments known as radiometers detected heat and light radiation from earth, cloud, and sea.
As Canada passed beneath, a radio command came up from an 85-foot antenna near Fairbanks, Alaska, operated by the National Environmental Satellite Service.
“Give us your pictures,” it signaled.
Like an obedient child, NOAA 1 turned on magnetic tape recorders that had stored pictures from one of its TV cameras. Electronic impulses that encode patterns of light and dark went by radio from the spacecraft to the ground station, from which they were relayed to weather stations all over the United States. In hours, forecasters had the pictures on their desks, showing storm patterns that would affect you and me the following day.
NOAA 1 made such a picture every 260 seconds. Each covered a square some 2,000 miles on a side, an area of four million square miles. Cloud patterns as small as two miles across could be distinguished.
As the spacecraft made its orbit, the earth rotated nearly 29 degrees to the east. Thus each successive orbit, and each successive strip of photographs, was displaced westward. Since the strips overlapped, NOAA 1 captured a progressive portrait of the globe. It scanned every spot on earth at least twice each day.