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The eye in the sky sees all

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With the rise of Web services like TerraServer, Virtual Earth, and Google Maps, satellite imagery of the home planet has become so publicly accessible as to risk being taken for granted. But that's not to say that we can't still be impressed by these high-altitude self-portraits - all we really need is a very clear shot of a very interesting subject. Space Imaging fulfills both those criteria with its online collection, and while it can't be denied that Google Maps makes it easier to find your back yard, there's definitely something to be said for the 'guided' global tour.

One of the more publicly visible examples of the commercialization of the final frontier, Space Imaging exists to sell the kind of satellite photography once only available to the military and intelligence communities - for uses that run from forestry and environmental planning, to disaster assessment, movie making (SI images were used extensively in the Tom Clancy film, "The Sum of All Fears"), and even the occasional lawsuit. (SI's work was also a central component of the recently reviewed Nolli Map website.) And while a variety of satellites - and aerial photography - have been used in the creation of the full SI collection, the star of the show is the company's own IKONOS satellite. Launched in September 1999, it's the first commercial satellite able to discern objects as small as one meter square.

In keeping with the nature of the enterprise, the site is designed as both a storefront and a showcase for SI's selection of imagery, but since most of us are likely - at least at first - to be falling strictly into the 'window shopping' category, the area of most interest will be the Gallery. Here, surfers can explore an archive of more than 300 "Images of the Week," "Top 10" selections from each year of operation, and a handful of feature collections - all without spending a cent.

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