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Landsat’s History: The story behind nearly a half-century of monitoring the Earth’s surface with Landsat
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  • Darrel Williams,
  • Samuel Goward,
  • James Irons,
  • Theresa Arvidson,
  • Laura Rocchio,
  • Carol Russell,
  • Shaida Johnston
Darrel Williams
Global Science & Technology

Corresponding Author:darrel.williams@gst.com

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Samuel Goward
University of Maryland College Park
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James Irons
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
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Theresa Arvidson
Leidos Innovations Corporation
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Laura Rocchio
Science Systems and Applications, Inc.
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Carol Russell
Science Systems and Applications, Inc.
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Shaida Johnston
The Aerospace Corporation
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Spanning a period of more than 15 years, the Landsat Legacy Project Team researched, complied and published, in late 2017, Landsat's Enduring Legacy that describes the myriad of factors that surround the nearly half-century of monitoring the Earth's surface with Landsat. Born of technologies that evolved from the World War II, Landsat not only pioneered global land monitoring but, in the process, drove innovation in digital imaging technologies and encouraged development of global imagery archives. Access to this imagery led to early breakthroughs in natural resources assessments, particularly for agriculture, forestry, and geology. The technical and political aspects of the remote sensing revolution led by Landsat were not simple or straightforward. Early conflicts between civilian and defense satellite remote sensing users gave way to disagreements over whether the Landsat system should be a public service or a private enterprise. Only the combined engagement of civilian and defense organizations ultimately saved this pioneer satellite land monitoring program from termination. With the emergence of 21st century Earth system science research, coupled with greatly enhanced data computing, storage and transfer capabilities, the full value of the Landsat concept and its continuous, calibrated nearly half-century global archive has been recognized and embraced. The attempts to privatize Landsat had dramatic negative impacts on the collection, availability, and use of the data. These impacts should inform deliberations on the future of the Landsat program moving toward a Sustained Land Imaging program following Landsat 9. Discussion of Landsat's future continues, but its heritage will not be forgotten.