Updated: Jul 21
#53 Science in History
1st April 1960
TIROS I, the first successful weather satellite, was launched into orbit on this day in 1960.
Although there was a launch delay due to technical problems, the satellite was successfully launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the United States Army. The three-foot, 270 pound satellite was carried by a Thor-Able rocket; a modified intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that had been used to launch the first American satellite, Explorer 1, in 1958.
TIROS I (Television Infrared Observation Satellite 1) was the first of 10 satellites in the TIROS program. It was equipped with two cameras, a Vidicon camera for visible light images and a Radiometer camera for infrared images. These cameras captured and transmitted images of the Earth's cloud cover and weather patterns to ground stations on Earth, where they were analysed by meteorologists and used to create weather forecasts. In addition to capturing images of the Earth's weather patterns, TIROS I also carried instruments to measure the temperature and humidity of the Earth's atmosphere.
Launched into a polar orbit, the satellite captured images of the entire Earth's surface every 12 hours. Over the course of its 78-day mission, TIROS I transmitted over 19,000 images of the Earth's cloud cover and weather patterns to ground stations on Earth.
Before TIROS I, meteorologists relied on surface observations and limited information from weather balloons to make weather forecasts. The ability to capture and analyse images of the Earth's cloud cover and weather patterns from space allowed for more accurate and detailed weather forecasting, which has saved countless lives and improved our understanding of the Earth's weather systems.
TIROS 1 was not the first satellite to observe the Earth. The first Earth observation satellite was Explorer 6, launched by the United States on August 7, 1959. In the same year, a joint United States-Canada project called "Project Stormfury" used modified fighter planes to seed clouds in an attempt to weaken hurricanes. The planes were equipped with cameras that captured images of the clouds and storm systems, providing scientists with new insights into the behaviour of hurricanes.