Historic Overview

In 1859 Gaspard Tournachon took an oblique photograph of a small village near Paris from a balloon. With this picture the era of earth observation and remote sensing had started. His example was soon followed by other people all over the world. During the Civil War in the United States aerial photography from balloons played an important role to reveal the defence positions in Virginia (Colwell, 1983). Likewise other scientific and technical developments this Civil War time in the United States speeded up the development of photography, lenses and applied airborne use of this technology. Table 1 shows a few important dates in the development of remote sensing.

The next period of fast development took place in Europe and not in the United States. It was during World War I that aero planes were used on a large scale for photoreconnaissance. Aircraft proved to be more reliable and more stable platforms for earth observation than balloons. In the period between World War I and World War II a start was made with the civilian use of aerial photos. Application fields of airborne photos included at that time geology, forestry, agriculture and cartography. These developments lead to much improved cameras, films and interpretation equipment. The most important developments of aerial photography and photo interpretation took place during World War II. During this time span the development of other imaging systems such as near-infrared photography; thermal sensing and radar took place. Near-infrared photography and thermal-infrared proved very valuable to separate real vegetation from camouflage. The first successful airborne imaging radar was not used for civilian purposes but proved valuable for nighttime bombing. As such the system was called by the military 'plan position indicator' and was developed in Great Britain in 1941.

After the wars in the 1950s remote sensing systems continued to evolve from the systems developed for the war effort. Colour infrared (CIR) photography was found to be of great use for the plant sciences. In 1956 Colwell conducted experiments on the use of CIR for the classification and recognition of vegetation types and the detection of diseased and damaged or stressed vegetation. It was also in the 1950s that significant progress in radar technology was achieved.

Tablel: Milestones in the History of Remote Sensing

1800

Discovery of Infrared by Sir W. Herschel

1839

Beginning of Practice of Photography

1847

Infrared Spectrum Shown by J.B.L. Foucault

1859

Photography from Balloons

1873

Theory of Electromagnetic Spectrum by J.C. Maxwell

1909

Photography from Airplanes

1916

World War I: Aerial Reconnaissance

1935

Development of Radar in Germany

1940

WW II: Applications of Non-Visible Part of EMS

1950

Military Research and Development

1959

First Space Photograph of the Earth (Explorer-6)

1960

First TIROS Meteorological Satellite Launched

1970

Skylab Remote Sensing Observations from Space

1972

Launch Landsat-1 (ERTS-1) : MSS Sensor

1972

Rapid Advances in Digital Image Processing

1982

Launch of Landsat -4 : New Generation of Landsat Sensors: TM

1986

French Commercial Earth Observation Satellite SPOT

1986

Development Hyperspectral Sensors

1990

Development High Resolution Space borne Systems

First Commercial Developments in Remote Sensing

1998

Towards Cheap One-Goal Satellite Missions

1999

Launch EOS : NASA Earth Observing Mission

1999

Launch of IKONOS, very high spatial resolution sensor system

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