IN SEPTEMBER 1961 a small hurricane called Esther swirled into being above the warm waters of the mid-Atlantic. It bore down on America’s east coast, executed a graceful clockwise loop-the-loop off the shores of New York, then gusted up through Maine and into Quebec as little more than a squall.
Esther’s place in history was not assured through its destructive power, although it did kill seven people when it brought down an American navy plane that was on route to Monrovia, in Liberia. It was, rather, the surveillance of Esther that made the storm famous, for this was the first hurricane to be discovered from space. Tracking began after the third Television Infrared Observation Satellite (TIROS-3), an early meteorological satellite launched by the United States, spotted precursor thunderstorms in the eastern Atlantic, southwest of the Cape Verde Islands.