You might say they make strange bedfellows. The Vatican isn’t exactly known for the way it embraces science and technology, just ask Galileo. Oddly enough though, the Vatican finds itself in a bit of a quandary. How can one of the oldest known libraries preserve ancient texts for future generations? The answer to that question comes from a NASA developed technology used to preserve images from satellites like the Hubble Space Telescope.
Archivists at the library have already begun the task of scanning the delicate Tomes that it houses into a file format called FITS. FITS stands for Flexible Image Transport System and was developed by NASA in the late 1970’s. The format is open source and designed to always be backwards compatible. According to Wikipedia, there is a saying “once FITS, always FITS” to describe how all future implementations of this format must be backwards compatible. The format stores more than just an image. It contains a text header that contains instructions for processing the data it contains. An overview of FITS can be found on NASA’s website here.
The problem for the Vatican Library staff is that every time the ancients texts are handled, it presents the possibility to damage them. Luciano Ammenti, director of the Vatican’s Information Technology Center, chose FITS because of its open-source approach, its longevity over several decades, and the fact that it’s not owned by any one company. Having a format like FITS that will be compatible with computer systems long into the future will cut down on the necessity of having to handle these Tomes again just to convert them to the next big fad in imaging technology.
I think this all goes to show that science and religion don’t always have to be mortal enemies. Through the advances of science, people of faith will be able to delve deep into their origins for years to come, and scientists, such as anthropologists, will be able to see a timeline of human behavior and development over the course of many years. Sounds like a win-win to me.