Although there is little likelihood that the spacecraft will ever replace the traditional research ship as the primary platform for oceanographic studies, the spacecraft has two distinct advantages: it can “see” vast areas of the earth’s surface per “look,” and it can traverse in minutes an area it would take research ships days to cross. Each of the spacecraft’s sensors, from human eye to sophisticated electronic devices, is able to see vast distances due to the high vantage point of space altitudes. This permits simultaneous viewing of many large-scale oceanic features, such as circulation patterns and river outflows, that previously had been known only from data pieced together by ships and low- flying aircraft. This “eagle-eye” phenomenon was first noted during the Gemini Program space flights. Inspection of the color photographs taken by the astronauts showed a high degree of scientifically useful detail on the Earth’s surface. It was learned that, once the astronauts were outside the Earth’s atmosphere, their visual acuity increased greatly.
Space Oceanography: The Logical Paradox
Busy as they were with docking maneuvers between their spacecraft and the expended S-IVB stage, Apollo 7 astronauts simultaneously could see and photograph vast expanses of the Atlantic Ocean and the Florida peninsula beneath them. Thus, the sensors that may one day unlock the secrets of the stars are today providing man with fascinating views of his ancient adversary—and ally—the sea.
By Commander Don Walsh, U.S. Navy