Earth views from far and near; Earth Watch: A Survey of the World from Space, by Charles Sheffield. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. 160 pp. $24.95.
If you would like to see your world as the space shuttlers or others in space might see it, this magnificent display of Landsat resource satellite photos will help you do it.
Intrigued by orbital photography both as a modern art form and as a revealing perspective on our environment, the author, who is vice-president of the Earth Satellite Corporation, has assembled a representative collection of breathtaking scenes. They show the versatility of this new tool for land assessment and geographical exploration. They also, as the author stresses, show up the pollution, land denudation, and other enviromental abuses that seem ubiquitous on our planet.
The photo selection is thoughtful, the organization into different geographical types logical, and the discussion of how Landsat takes the pictures and how they are analyzed is helpful. I could end the review here with a recommendation. But first the question of why recommend yet another resource satellite book should be answered.
In 1975, for example, Ward Ritchie Press issued a full photo atlas of the United States using satellite and aerial pictures. Then in 1977, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration published a thick book of Landsat views representing much of the Earth and with full explanation of the technology. Such photos have also been prominently represented in a number of space books. What, then, can Sheffield add that would make his book unique? The answer is simply the insight and enthusiasm of one whose business it is to put these photos to practical use.
He not only shows the beauty of our planet as seen from Earth orbit, but he helps you realize how much of what can be learned from these views has of immediate, practical value. The uses range over such things as resource prospecting, crop evaluation, pollution monitoring, and city planning. Photographs help greatly for such purposes. But their value is enhanced by correlative views taken with nonvisible radiations, such as those with infrared or radar wavelengths.
Looking ahead, Sheffield foresees the ability to refine this kind of space surveying to a point where details as small as a foot across can be resolved. As he notes, ''The time is approaching when we will be able to conduct full prospecting operations for minerals from space-derived data. . . . Our remote eyes in space will gather data in wavelengths far beyond what human eyes can see. It will be fed directly to ground-based computers without human intervention, and from that automatic analysis will come drought warnings, forest inventories, land use reports, crop forecasts, flood alerts, earthquake predictions, and resource summaries.''
The author warns that we must prepare ourselves to use this flood of new information wisely and beneficially. It is his personal vision of what Landsat is all about that gives this book added value.