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Getting the View From on High

May 09, 1999|BOOTH MOORE

Big Brother is watching--and everyone else may be too. Although aerial photographs are routinely taken by the U.S. Geological Service every few years, last spring they became available on the Web at http://www.terraserver.microsoft.com.

The site offers digitized aerial photographs from the Geological Service's files, as well as satellite images from Russian space agency Sovinformsputnik, the product of a joint U.S.-Russian venture to market declassified satellite photographs from Russian mapping satellites. Geological Service images may be downloaded for free, but photographs from the Russian agency must be purchased.

The images may be navigated spatially by using a point-and-click map control or by typing in a street or place name. Despite the fact that a satellite image of your backyard can be accessed by anyone roaming the Internet, the Geological Service, which was brought together with the Russians through Microsoft, does not believe the site is a violation of personal privacy.

"The smallest elements you can see are cars. You can't see what someone is doing in their backyard," says Geological Service senior program advisor Hedy Rossmeissl. "It's an enormous educational resource to have people be able to look at images of landmarks like the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty and even fun stuff like Disneyland."

Only 30% to 40% of the area of the United States is online now, but Geological Service is making full coverage its goal for 2001. Most of the Russian-produced images are of areas that were of concern to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. More recently, the agency has been photographing key urban areas and environmental points of interest. The site has had more than 1 billion hits since its launch in June.

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