The Daily Dose: Cold War satellite spy data finds new use in animal conservation

Sign up for Scientific Inquirer’s Steady State Newsletter for the week’s top stories, exclusive interviews, and weekly giveaways. Plenty of value added but without the tax.

By now, it’s almost cliche to cite how the launching of Sputnik, the world’s first satellite, into orbit traumatized the American psyche, especially in the government and military. The potential advantages it offered the Soviet Union was clear. The ability to spy on countries was second only to the fear that nuclear missiles could be launched from space. In response, the United States sped up its own satellite launch in order to keep track of the U.S.S.R. Fast forward to the present and scientists have found a novel, unintended benefit to the troves of data that had been collected. As per Science, “The researchers tested the approach on bobak marmot (Marmota bobak) populations in the grassland region of northern Kazakhstan. There, Soviets converted millions of hectares of natural habitat into cropland in the 1960s. The scientists searched the satellites’ black and white film images on a U.S. Geological Survey database for signs of the squirrel-like animal’s burrows. They identified more than 5000 historic marmot homes and compared them with contemporary digital images of the region, mapping more than 12,000 marmot burrows in all.”

An article in STAT threw buckets of ice on the news that a vaccine being developed by Moderna Therpeutics has produced has completed Phase I clinical trials successfully. According to the article, “While Moderna blitzed the media, it revealed very little information — and most of what it did disclose were words, not data. That’s important: If you ask scientists to read a journal article, they will scour data tables, not corporate statements. With science, numbers speak much louder than words.” Sometimes, it feels as if grim times just get grimmer. Was Moderna’s announcement merely a way to raise funds when its stock popped on the news?

A new policy paper published in Science maps out a vaccine strategy. It focuses on public-private partnerships and discusses ways to maximize the strengths of different industries while also increasing efficiency. The paper concludes, “Although new technologies and factories can be developed to sustain production, there is an immediate need to fund the necessary biomanufacturing infrastructure, including the fill/finish steps that provide vialed vaccine products for distribution. Cost, distribution system, cold chain requirements, and delivery of widespread coverage are all potential constriction points in the eventual delivery of vaccines to individuals and communities. All of these issues require global cooperation among organizations involved in health care delivery and economics.”


IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

Words matter. Images matter. The Scientific Inquirer needs your support. Help us pay our contributors for their hard work. Visit our Patreon page and discover ways that you can make a difference.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: