One year ago, on February 11, 2013, delegations from around the world watched tensely as NASA launched the Landsat 8 Earth observing satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Landsat 8 is the latest success in a decades-long NASA and U.S. Geological Survey partnership that has provided a continuous record of change across Earth’s land surfaces since 1972.
Orbiting 440 miles above Earth, Landsat satellites document natural processes such as volcanic eruptions, glacial retreat, floods, and forest fires, and human processes such as urban expansion, crop irrigation, and forest clear-cutting. Since 2008, all Landsat data are freely available to anyone on Earth.
The launch went perfectly, as did NASA’s thorough testing of the satellite’s systems. On May 30, NASA transferred the satellite to the USGS, which now operates Landsat 8 along with older sister Landsat 7. With two Landsat satellites on orbit, the USGS can provide data every eight days for any spot on the Earth’s land masses, supporting water managers, agricultural commodities markets, and scientists around the globe.