The skies above earth are filled with satellites, many of them transmitting GPS signals that help us find our way around, track both animals and people, and spy on friends and enemies alike. How did all that get started? The first animal with a satellite tracker was an elk named Monique, and the news media followed her exploits closely. You can see in the image that the tracker was quite cumbersome, and so was the experiment.
Really, Monique was two elk, both of whom were outfitted with satellite collars in early 1970 — almost fifty years ago on the dot, in fact. The Moniques belonged to a migratory herd of 7,000 animals that wintered on the National Elk Refuge just south of Yellowstone National Park, and then went… well, no one quite knew where. Although John and Frank Craighead, twin brothers and legendary wildlife researchers, had long studied the region’s elk movements, their tracking methods were rudimentary. In the 1960s they’d fitted thousands of animals with color-coded necklaces, then hiked around Yellowstone searching for their bands. The herculean project revealed patches of habitat, but offered scant insight into how the animals moved between them — a Connect-the-Dots illustration with no dots connected.
Those gaps, the Craigheads vowed, would be filled in 1970. The previous year, they’d struck up a partnership with NASA to develop a newfangled elk tracking collar that would communicate with a weather satellite called the Nimbus 3. The collar cost $25,000, weighed 23 pounds — most of it a sheath of protective fiberglass — and would beam its wearer’s location and skin temperature, along with the ambient air temperature and light conditions, to the Nimbus every day.
The project was not without problems. In fact, everything that could possibly go wrong did go wrong. Meanwhile, pundits mused on where this technology would go and worried about the ability to track people with satellites as well as animals. Read the story of Monique the Space Elk at The Last Word On Nothing. -via Metafilter
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(Image credit: Jackson Hole Guide)