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Our Privileged Planet, Streaming Live

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This is very cool. In a remarkable technological achievement, you'll soon be able to go online and watch the Earth from space -- live, in nearly real time, high definition, and free. An outfit called UrtheCast ("Earthcast") in Vancouver is behind it. They'll launch a pair of cameras into space on Monday, with an assist from the Russians, and after some months of calibrating, you'll be ready to see our privileged planet from space.

FoxNews.com reports:

The cameras will orbit for a few days before docking at the Russian portion of the International Space Station (ISS). The largest artificial body in orbit, the ISS serves as a research laboratory and testing facility for future space missions. It will add streaming media to its long list of functions.

Once calibrated -- and this could take several months, Larson said -- the cameras will start beaming down images. For the first time, ordinary web surfers will see the Earth in space with a delay of only 45 minutes to a couple hours at the most (this accounts for the near-real time nature). The crisp resolution will let them see not only the Earth -- with all the accompanying weather patterns and seasonal changes -- but moving vehicles, large crowds, boats and buildings.

Not only will viewers get the greatest panoramic view of all but they'll be able to customize it too, locking on to their country, their state, their neighborhood when the cameras pan over that part of the world on rotation.

It's hard not to see this, in some karmic sense, as a rebuke to the ongoing buzz about how many habitable "Earth-like" planets people think are out there sailing through the Milky Way. The estimate has been bid up as high as 40 billion -- an exercise, as we've pointed out, largely of imagination.

Image credit: Space Station Over the Ionian Sea, STS-118 Shuttle Crew, NASA.