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One of the first images of the Moon and on film

SAN CLEMENTE, -(CA)- Can Big Brother see you in your underwear from space? According to John Hoot, who owns an imaging consulting firm in San Clemente that works with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the average satellites orbiting the Earth at altitudes of 190 to 450 miles can see you – but not with enough resolution to say it’s you and not your neighbor.

During a presentation called “Images in Space” on Thursday night at Casa Romantica Cultural Center and Gardens in San Clemente, Hoot said satellites normally operate at higher altitudes to avoid being pulled down by Earth’s gravity but can come down lower for a short time to take photos when its important enough. That’s when they can collect some great images.

Let me go out to the car and get my checkbook.

Because of particles in Earth’s atmosphere such as dust, smog and moisture, imaging technology like that used by Google Earth can get image resolutions only within about 10 feet of clarity. Hoot says cameras, lenses and technology are sophisticated enough to realize high resolutions within an inch or two at altitudes of 190 miles, but the Earth’s cloudy atmosphere is hard to get around without what he calls “adaptive optics.” That’s what likely is used on U.S. military satellites to get better images than what any civilian will ever see.

Hoot detailed the beginnings of space photography, which he says essentially began just after World War II when the United States brought back more than 200 German V-2 rockets captured at the end of the war, placed cameras inside them and tested them as a means of aerial reconnaissance.

look closely to see who is really taking the photo.

In his hourlong talk, Hoot discussed the various forms of space photography, beginning with film and later scanners, infrared technology, television and finally solid-state sensors that deliver flat, distortionless images in very high resolution.

With film, rockets orbiting Earth would have to eject film in re-entry capsules that would float down by parachute and be recovered in midair by aircraft with special booms and wires. During those days, recovery was always planned over the Pacific Ocean, specifically over the almost 36,000-feet-deep Mariana trench, so that if any problem occurred in recovery, the capsule would be not be found by any rival country such as Russia or China.

Thanks to digital transmissions, Hoot said, the photos we see today are delivered from deep-space projects such as the Hubble Space TelescopeMars PathfinderMars Exploration Rover and the Voyager I, which, launched in September 1977, is the farthest manmade object from the Earth. Voyager I, transmitting at 1¾ watts, will continue to receive directions and send images back to Earth until at least 2025, when it begins to leave our solar system.

The fickle hand of fate?

In the beginning of space imaging, cameras were electronically simple but mechanically complex. That is now reversed, allowing devices we use every day, such as cell phones and digital cameras, to be smaller, more easily affordable and operate with greater reliability, Hoot said.

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