Around the World with a Canon Camcorder - NASA Brings Science to a Computer Near You

The CanonA1 Digital camcorder is used onboard the Space Shuttle, but space is not theonly place where you can find scientists from the National Aeronautics andSpace Administration using Canon photographic equipment.

NASA uses Canon camcorders to photograph volcan'es, weatherconditions and the many other wonders of nature. The images captured by thecamcorders are passed through a laptop computer and uplinked to a satellite forlive Webcasting on the Internet.

Going where few have gone before, NASA scientists documentthe ever-changing conditions on Earth and bring the thrill of scientificdiscovery into homes and schools. They strive to increase interest and aptitudein science and technology by providing students with the opportunity to performsimilar tasks.

Until recently, NASA used a Canon ES900 camcorder, which wasretired after logging about 50,000 miles. This analog camcorder operated atminus 55 degrees Fahrenheit at both exact poles. It was instrumental in thefirst and only live Webcast from the North Pole in April 1999. For upcomingadventures, the Canon Elura digital video camcorder will be used to allow theteam to continue its world exploration. The Elura functions both as a videocamcorder and a digital still camera, delivering the highest possible digitalimage quality in a compact design.

Mike Comberiate, spacecraft systems manager at the NASAGoddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, directs the activities of thespecial projects initiative group at NASA called COOLSPACE — CommunicationsOver Obscure Locations (COOL) with Special Purpose Advanced CommunicationsEquipment (SPACE). He is also a member of NASA’s Earth Observing System AquaProject that transmits an education outreach program called “You Be TheScientist” to secondary schools (grades 6 through 12) and science centers.

In addition to pictures from field trips, the program usesemerging digital satellite technology to distribute satellite imagery directlyinto schools. Students post-process the same raw satellite imagery data thatthe experts use, and they enhance images to highlight desired features.

Students track wildfires and predict storm movements. Theyanalyze cloud temperatures with rain correlation, and they demonstrateprinciples of physics and chemistry. They pose questions to other students,customize findings and present them on their own Web pages. In some cases, suchas the North Pole Expedition, satellites watch the COOLSPACE field teams andsend processed images to the COOLSPACE Web site for students to view in nearreal-time. (See

The Canon ES900 enabled Mr. Comberiateto Webcast that first video from the North Pole. The camcorder output washooked into a video capture board built into a Gateway 9100 laptop computer.The COOLSPACE team linked to NASA satellites for a total of 10 Webcasts fromthe polar ice. The Canon ES900 performed for hours while sitting on a cameratripod in open air with temperatures below freezing.

Beginners find Canon’s 8mm and digital camcorders easy touse. They are also powerful and sophisticated for the professionalvideographer. Breakthrough technologies such as optical image stabilization,auto editing functions and digital effects are integrated into compact, lightmodels that offer quality results, and are easy to carry to those chilly (andwarmer) climates.

“Our idea is to get the ‘lights to come on’ when studentsrealize that science and technology are exciting and that they can do itthemselves,” says Mr. Comberiate, who is known as “NASA Mike” to studentsworldwide. “We try to grab their attention by taking them with us on these virtualfield trips whenever we are working in some wild or unusual place. Thetechnologies they see us using have become routine, and their exposure to allof this will help them develop marketable skills in the world they need tocompete in.”

Anyone watching online is able to interact with the NASAteam, asking questions of the scientists, studying satellite images andlearning how to use the kinds of technology that are quickly becomingcommonplace in the 21st century.

Recently, the team traveled to the Kennedy Space Center inFlorida for a space shuttle launch. Several students accompanied the NASAengineers, and for three days they used the Canon ES900 to produce liveWebcasts that included interviews with astronauts, scientists and engineers.The students also designed and produced the Web site for this event andprovided the digital imagery.

NASA also conducts several innovative satellite projects inAntarctica. The COOLSPACE team tried to use the sunlight reflected off of theenormous Antarctic ice cap to light up a dead, tumbling satellite. Through theCanon ES900 and the Internet, NASA brought students to the ice cap to see thescientists at work and to ask questions during live Webcasts.

“We have really taken the Canon ES900 through an unusual setof torture tests, and it performed with flying colors,” said David BeverleySr., who handles the COOLSPACE Team’s computer and networking aspects. “Additional COOLSPACE adventuresare planned, and we will bring Canon along so more students can see some of thenifty ‘whiz bang’ things rocket scientists are doing.”

Planned stops include the Mauna LoaObservatory in Hawaii, which studies the atmosphere just like NASA’s Aquasatellite. The idea is to see the connection between the view from space andthe view from Earth.

COOLSPACE will put the Canon Elura through the same torturetests as Canon’s ES900. In the near future, the digitization will be done rightin the camera. With just the camera, the COOLSPACE team can produce moreprofessional video images from the field with less equipment than ever before.


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This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.