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U.S. Celebrates 40th Birthday of First Earth-Observing Satellite
July 24, 2012

By MacKenzie C. Babb
IIP Staff Writer
July 23,  2012

Side by side images of the earth from space
These images show a Landsat view of the Mississippi River area in Tennessee taken in 2006, left, and an image from the same vantage during the flooding of May 2011.
NASA and the Interior Department marked the 40th anniversary of the Landsat program with a Washington event that celebrated the contributions of the world’s longest-running Earth-observing satellite program to environmental research and global development.

“Landsat has given us a critical perspective on our planet over the long term and will continue to help us understand the big picture of Earth and its changes from space,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement ahead of the July 23 anniversary. “With this view we are better prepared to take action on the ground and be better stewards of our home.”

According to the joint statement from NASA and the Interior Department, the Landsat record is part of a “sustained effort by the United States to provide direct societal benefits across a wide range of human endeavors, including human and environmental health, energy and water management, urban planning, disaster recovery and agriculture.”

Landsat images provide global coverage showing large-scale human activities such as building cities and farming and contain many layers of data collected at different points along the visible and invisible light spectrum.

In fact, NASA said, a single Landsat scene taken from 400 miles above Earth can accurately detail the condition of hundreds of thousands of acres of grassland, agricultural crops or forests.

“Over four decades, data from the Landsat series of satellites have become a vital reference worldwide for advancing our understanding of the science of the land,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said in the joint statement. He added that the Landsat archive, which is free and easily accessible to the public, “forms an indelible and objective register of America’s natural heritage.”

The remote-sensing capabilities of the Landsat satellites have helped scientists to track changes and detect critical trends in the conditions of natural resources, providing a comprehensive record of human and natural land changes.

“Landsat has been a game changer for agricultural monitoring, climate change research and water management,” said Anne Castle, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for water and science.

The event celebrating Landsat’s anniversary also highlighted NASA’s plans to launch the eighth Landsat satellite, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission, in February 2013 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Waleed Abdalati, NASA chief scientist, spoke at the event about the importance of continuing the Landsat program.

“By looking into our past and observing the present, we can begin to paint an important picture about the future,” he said. “We can position ourselves to succeed in the face of these changes — not to survive, but to thrive, to really make the most of the environment that lies ahead.”

He said the Landsat program is the “kind of investment that ensures that success.”

Abdalati was joined at the event by Castle as well as Jeff Masek, NASA Landsat project scientist; Tom Loveland, U.S. Geological Survey senior scientist; Jim Irons, Landsat Data Continuity Mission project scientist; and research geographer Roger Auch of the U.S. government’s Earth Resources Observation and Science Center.