Landsat’s Enduring Legacy: Pioneering Global Land Observations from Space

By Carol A. Russell ’79 and the rest of the Landsat Legacy Project Team: Samuel N. Goward, Darrel L. Williams, Terry Arvidson, Laura E. P. Rocchio, James R. Irons, and Shaida S. Johnston. Chasing a mystery of “missing” coverage and inspired to capture the far-flung knowledge of Landsat’s backstory, the Landsat Legacy Team spent more than 15 years researching, writing, and interviewing a rapidly dwindling population of aging Landsat program veterans. The resulting book chronicles the nearly half-century history of observing Earth’s lands with the visionary Landsat satellite series born of technologies that evolved from the Second World War. Landsat not only pioneered global land monitoring, but in the process drove innovation in digital imaging technologies and encouraged development of global image data archives. Use of this imagery led to early breakthroughs in assessments of natural resources, particularly in agriculture, forestry, and geology. The technical remote sensing revolution detailed herein was neither simple nor straightforward. Initial conflicts between the civilian and defense satellite remote sensing domains gave way to the public service vs. commercial enterprise debate concerning how the Landsat program should be administered. The failed attempt to privatize Landsat nearly led to its demise. Only the combined engagement of civilian and defense organizations and users ultimately saved this remarkable program. With the emergence of 21st century Earth system science and global climate research, the full value of the Landsat concept and its continuous 45- year global archive has been recognized. While Landsat’s future is yet to play out, this volume remembers its heritage.