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Vatican Library uses space technology to preserve manuscripts

Monsignore Cesare Pasini, prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library (AP)

The Vatican and the European Space Agency have agreed to continue their collaboration on the management of the Vatican Library collection.

The declaration follows five years of cooperation in protecting documents held in the library, using the ‘flexible image transport system’ (FITS), technology which the Space Agency developed with NASA in the 1970s, and enabling the preservation and improved accessibility of historic manuscripts and codices.

Mgr Cesare Pasini, prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library, said: “Our collaboration is based on the common intention by our two institutions to promote the long-term preservation of images in electronic format.”

The Vatican Library dates back to 1475 and houses tens of thousands of documents, some of which are 1,800 years old.

Josef Aschbacher, director of Earth Observation Programmes at ESA, said that the two institutions are facing very similar issues in relation to data assets preservation.

“While ESA provides global information about the state of our planet through satellite observations, the Vatican Apostolic Library offers a unique source of wisdom that has contributed to the development of our society and culture,” Josed Aschbacher said.

Scanner software developed for the Vatican’s project automatically calculates accurate angles, removing distortions from aged documents. The format includes all the information needed to decode the data within the same file, and without the need for conversion to another format, ensuring it remains accessible hundreds of years into the future.