It began with a basketball-sized bundle of technology called Sputnik 1. Launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957, the worlds first artificial satellite was followed four months later by the first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1. The race into space was on, and with it came a new way of looking at the Earth. The first aerial photographs had been taken a century earlier by a French hot-air balloonist. Balloons were briefly used to gather military intelligence during the U.S. Civil Waruntil it became apparent that they were not immune to gunfire.
Other attempts to view the ground from on high included attaching tiny cameras to kites and even pigeons. But serious aerial photography didnt begin until a passenger aboard an airplane piloted by co-inventor Wilbur Wright snapped the scene below in 1908.
By the end of the 20th century, more than 2,200 satellites were circling the planet, many of them providing steady streams of scientific data, along with views of the Earth never before imagined possible.