Space: A Switch In Time

Although American astronauts will have a hard time catching up with their Soviet counterparts, U.S. civilian imaging satellites may soon compete with rival Soviet spacecraft. Last week the White House announced the lifting of a ban on commercial imaging satellites capable of taking high-resolution photographs of the earth's surface. Reason: competition from higher-resolution Soviet and French space-based cameras.

Low-power U.S. satellite images have been used for years by meteorologists, geologists and agronomists to view vast, sometimes inaccessible, areas from space. The U.S. ban grew out of Defense Department fears that civilians might uncover sensitive military secrets. But it backfired when Landsat,...

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