I just got back from a cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Barcelona. Because of the cruise, I was unable to attend the AAPG conference last week, and I also missed out on the ESRI PUG that we have people attending this week.
The ship was relatively small (700 passengers), and my wife and I were spoiled outrageously by the staff and crew. It was an extremely relaxing 2+ weeks, but oddly enough it was not the relaxation of isolation that one might expect from such a cruise. We were, after all, crossing the Atlantic Ocean in March and one might expect to be incommunicado for a period of time. But that was not the case, and so the relaxation was actually magnified simply due to the fact that I knew, if something came up at home (or at work), people could get hold of me. In other words, I was comforted by the fact that I was not isolated from the world. I was, in fact, connected to the world in ways that I could not have imagined possible just a few years ago.
A short fifty years ago, on April 12, 1961, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin became the first man to orbit the earth. At that time, the only way to get information moved from one continent to the other in “real time” (a phrase that did not exist at that time) was by telephone or telegraph. Radio and television signals are essentially line-of-sight technologies and so could not cross the ocean. The only way to get images from one continent to the other was by filming the event, popping the film onto an airplane and flying it to the target location. The first telecommunications satellite, Telstar 1, wasn’t put into orbit until July 10, 1962. A couple weeks later Telstar 1 was the conduit for the first live transatlantic television feed. Telstar died (due, indirectly, to radiation poisoning) in early 1963. In 1965 (just 46 years ago), the first commercial geosynchronous communications satellite was launched. Until that point satellites would sweep across the skies and only be available for a short window (typically around 20 minutes every 2.5 hours). There were fewer than 10 satellites in space at that time. Today there are literally hundreds of active satellites providing communications (both commercial and governmental), broadcast, GPS, surveillance (both commercial and governmental) and other services. And there are at least as many dead satellites as well.
On board the ship wi-fi was available throughout the staterooms and public areas. In addition, cellphone service was available anywhere at sea, as was satellite TV and a huge library of on-demand movies. These are things that were all driven through a satellite data uplink/downlink facility. Just a few years ago the availability of these types of services on trans-oceanic cruises was limited to the very few – now they are common and available to anyone on-board.
The thing is, the cruise got me thinking about satellites. And as I looked into what is now a commonplace element of our lives, I was struck by how this technology has grown to become such an ubiquitous part of our world. Use a GPS? Satellite TV? XM or Sirius Radio? How about our geoSCOUT Satellite Online service?
When I was on the ship I was actually able to use the satellite-driven wi-fi to access the geoSCOUT Satellite Online service on my Asus tablet netbook! How’s that for a circular reference? Oh, and it’s something you CAN’T do with an iPad. In this case there’s an app for that, but only in Windows!