Space Age Ark-Aeology -- By: Edward L. Waltz

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 03:4 (Autumn 1974)
Article: Space Age Ark-Aeology
Author: Edward L. Waltz

Space Age Ark-Aeology

Edward L. Waltz

[Edward L. Waltz is a systems engineer with the Aerospace Systems Division of Bendix Corporation. He has been responsible for the development of ERTS MSS processing systems for the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the Brazilian National Space Agency.]

The recent disclosure that the camera of a U.S. satellite has photographed a tiny dot on Mt. Ararat which may be Noah’s Ark has caused wide interest among groups hopeful of finding the ancient artifact. (Detroit Free Press, February 23, 1974; Moody Monthly, April 1974.) Senator Frank E. Moss (D. Utah) stated that Dr. John Montgomery has possibly identified the Ark remains in an Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS) photograph. In this article, we shall discuss how these photographs are made and the possibility of detecting the Ark in them.

The first ERTS spacecraft was launched on July 23, 1972 and a second spacecraft is being readied for launch early in 1975. Photographs of the earth’s surface are made with a multispectral scanner (MSS) on board the satellite. The MSS is an electromechanical line scanning device which collects four separate images of a 100 nautical mile wide swath along the satellite ground track. The four images are radiometric measurements of four spectral bandwidths: 0.5-0.6, 0.6-0.7, 0.7-0.8, and 0.8-1.1 micrometers. The instrument collects a 100 mile west to east “scan line” in 0.073 second by scanning a flat mirror perpendicular to the satellite ground track. As the spacecraft moves from north to south, contiguous scan lines build up a two dimensional radiometric image. The image is composed of a matrix of measurement “samples” which are represented by a series of coded numbers which are transmitted to receiving stations in the United States.

Twice every eighteen days, the ERTS orbit passes over Ararat such that the imagery includes the mountain. Since Turkey is not within range of the ERTS receiving stations located in the continental U.S., the Ararat imagery must be recorded by an on-board tape recorder

and played back while over the U.S. Such recording-playback sequences were commanded on the following six days during the lifetime for the ERTS-1 on-board tape recorder: 11–22-72, 2–19-73, 2–20-73, 3–9-73, 7–13-73, and 7–14-73. Tape recorder degradation which began in late 1973 prohibited the collection of any further imagery over Ararat.

The ability of the Ark to be detected by the MSS is a function of several factors: (1) contrast of the Ark material against the background, (2) size of the Ark or exposed portions and (3) position of the Ark with respect to the direction of the sat...

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