Succession of satellites keep eye on Earth

Excerpt from the January 22, 1966 issue of Science News Letter

Mount Etna

VIEW FROM ABOVE  A plume of gas and ash spill from Mount Etna in this image captured December 3 by the Landsat 8 satellite. A fleet of Earth-monitoring satellites was proposed in 1966; Landsat 8, launched in 2013, is the youngest.


Search for water, oil aided by spacecraft — The secret sources of water, fuel and minerals … may be discovered by using a new tool for geologists — an orbiting spacecraft. Cameras which detect infrared, ultraviolet and visible light and which orbit at a height of 100 or more miles will be an immense aid to geologists mapping the contours … of the Earth’s surface. — Science News Letter, January 22, 1966


Six years later, in 1972, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey launched the first of the Landsat satellites, spacecraft built to gather images of Earth. The latest, Landsat 8, debuted in 2013 and sends a minimum of 400 scenes a day. Its specialized cameras can monitor plankton and sediment in shallow waters, measure land temperatures and track dust and smoke moving through the atmosphere. Data from the Landsat satellites have informed climate and carbon cycle research, disaster recovery and urban planning. Last April, NASA announced that work had begun on Landsat 9, planned for launch in 2023.  

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