A Brief History of Photography: Part 10 – Sputnik & Digital Photography

In October 1957, with the launch of Sputnik, the Russians, under the leadership of Sergei Korolev, won the first leg of the space race over the American program led by Werner Von Braun. And so the quest to develop digital photography was launched.

Figure 1: Sputnik 1 Satellite, painting by Detlev Van Ravenswaay
Figure 1: Sputnik 1 Satellite, painting by Detlev Van Ravenswaay

What did the space race have to do with photography? Wasn’t it about putting a man in orbit, space stations, landing on the moon, and intercontinental nuclear weapons delivery? In fact it was about all those things, but in 1957 the biggest interest and concern regarding satellites was their ability to carry cameras that could spy on your enemies. The goal then was to capture an image from space, but the technology of the day required film, which had to be returned to earth either by recovering the satellite itself or by recovering a film capsule ejected by the satellite. This process entailed the risk of imagery loss if the aerial or sea recovery procedure failed. Even when recovery was successful, the imagery was not immediately available in a time-sensitive situation. These limitations led to research on the means of capturing imagery data and transmitting that data electronically to ground stations. This research led to the development of imaging sensors and processors that have brought us the digital photography we take for granted today. Continue reading “A Brief History of Photography: Part 10 – Sputnik & Digital Photography”