el-cheapo high resolution

Previously it was reported that the Air Force has supplied NASA with the high resolution photo of Columbia which provided direct visual evidence of a problem with the left wing. Now it turns out that the photo was actually acquired using an ancient Macintosh computer and a regular telescope!

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (AP) -- The shadowy, closely analyzed photo of space shuttle Columbia's underside was not snapped with cutting-edge military equipment, but by three researchers playing around with an old computer and a home telescope in their free time, officials said Wednesday.

The grainy photo was made February 1 at the Starfire Optical Range at Kirtland Air Force Base and released Friday by NASA. It shows what appears to be a suspicious bulge on the shuttle's wing shortly before it broke apart.

But contrary to reports last week, the photo was not snapped by one of Starfire's extraordinarily powerful telescopes, which are designed to spy on enemy satellites and detect incoming missiles.

Instead, it was taken by Starfire Optical Range engineers who, in their free time, had rigged up a device using a commercially available 31/2-inch telescope and an 11-year-old Macintosh computer, the researchers said.

To be honest, I wondered about the photo, given that the Starfire project is supposed to have incredible resolution. on the order of centimeters for objects as far away as a hundred miles. The resolution of the photo NASA released is clearly no better than a meter or so. I just thought that the original high-res version was being kept secret and NASA was releasing a blurred version, but this news is so much cooler.

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