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At 40, NASA Initiated Landsat Earth Observation Program Still Delivers


"Starry Night," a 2005 Landsat image that channels the artistry of Vincent Van Gogh, features the greenish glow of phytoplankton in a swirl around the Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. The image placed first in the "Earth as Art" series marking the 40th anniversary of the NASA/USGS Landsat program. Image Credid/NASA Goddard/USGS

Monday marked the 40th anniversary of the nation’s long-lived Landsat program, whose cornerstone is a succession of polar orbiting satellites developed do document the changing face of the Earth — changes both attributed to nature, like volcanic erruptions, and those caused by human activity, like de-forestation.

Initiated by NASA, the space agency’s Landsat initiative now counts the U. S. Geological Survey, an arm of the Department of the Interior, as its partner.

Landsat traces it roots to NASA’s Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, which for the first time afforded astronauts the opportunity to carry and point camera back at the Earth to snap pictures of whatever they found interesting.

The launch of Landsat 1 from Vandenberg Air Force Base,Calif., on June 23, 1972, has been followed by a five successors. The 1993 launch of Landsat 6 ended in failure.

Thor-Delta rocket prepared to lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., with Landsat 1 on Jan. 23, 1972. Image Credit/NASA

Currently, Landsat 5 and 7, launched respectively in 1984 and 1999, continue their multi-spectral image gathering, allowing experts to monitor and plan changes in land use that influence human and environmental health, energy and water management, urban planning, disaster recovery and food production.

The latest in the series of spacecraft, the Landsat Data Continuity Missions, is scheduled for a February 2013 lift off from Vandenberg.

“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 marking the anniversary. “With this view, we are better prepared to take action on the ground and be better stewards of our home.”

As part of the anniversary, NASA and the USGS hosted an Internet ballot, allowing the public to select five images from the Landsat data base to serve as an “Earth as Art” collection.





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