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The Landsat satellites have been monitoring the Earth since 1972. Tens of billions of square kilometers of the Earth have been covered by Landsat sensors and this imagery has provided practical information to scientists from many different Earth science disciplines.

Landsat I (originally called ERTS) was launched into an orbit 917 kilometers (570 miles) above the Earth. It made 14 revolutions of the Earth each day and flew over the same spot every 18 days. Succeeding Landsats had the same characteristics until the advent of Landsat 4, launched in 1982. Landsats 4 and 5 were placed in an orbit 705 kilometers (approximately 440 miles) high and repeated their cycle every 16 days. Landsat 4 malfunctioned early in its mission, but Landsat 5 remains operational today.

The Earth-imaging sensor carried on Landsats 1,2, and 3 was called a Multi-Spectral Scanner (MSS). To Provide continuity with early imagery and allow comparisons of changes in the land through time, Landsats 4 and 5 also carried an MSS. They carried a second more advanced sensor as well, called the Thematic Mapper (TM).

In 1993, Landsat 6 failed to attain its necessary orbit and was lost. In 1999, Landsat 7 began its mission with a new sensor, the Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+).

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Landsat 1
NASA Photograph

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Landsat 4
(1/4-scale model)

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Landsat 7
NASA Image

Multi-Spectral Scanner

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The Multi-spectral scanner (MSS) is a sensor that was carried on the first 6 Landsat satellites. It produces images of the Earth that cover an area of about 34,000 square kilometers (about 13,000 square miles) with a resolution of about 80 meters (260 feet). The MSS, which acquires data in both visible and infrared wavelengths, employs an oscillating mirror to scan the Earth beneath the spacecraft.

The Museum's MSS is an engineering model provided by NASA and Santa Barbara Remote Sensing.

Thematic Mapper

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The Thematic Mapper is an imaging sensor used on the Landsat 4 and 5 satellites. It can resolve features about three times smaller than earlier Landsat instruments and can collect data in more wavelength bands.
Full-scale model on display in Museum courtesy of Hughes Aircraft Company.

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The farmlands of Southern Louisiana (bright green) contrast sharply with the local wetlands in this 1992 Thematic Mapper scene. Nestled between Lake Ponchartrain and the Mississippi River is the city of New Orleans.
Courtesy of EROS Data Center, U.S. Geological Survey.

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Las Vegas, Nevada. The city of Las Vegas can be seen just west of Lake Mead on this Thematic Mapper scene. One of the largest man-made lakes in the world, Lake Mead was formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River.
Courtesy of ERIM International, Inc.

Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus

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The Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) is the new sensor flown on the Landsat 7 satellite. The ETM+ has eight bands sensitive to different wavelengths of visible and infrared radiation and has better resolution in the thermal infrared band than the Thematic Mapper (TM) instruments carried by Landsats 4 and 5.
NASA Photograph

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Cape Canaveral, the launch site for America's space exploration programs. The Kennedy Space Center (center) and Space Shuttle runway (top) can be seen clearly in this Landsat 7 image. Towards the northeast corner is Launch Pad 39A. Originally designed to support the Apollo program, it was later modified for Space Shuttle launches.
Courtesy of EROS Data Center, U.S. Geological Survey

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This ETM+ image from September 1999 reveals the after-effects of Hurricane Floyd on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Flooding from the storm destroyed 7,000 homes and caused severe agricultural damage throughout the eastern portion of the state.
Courtesy of EROS Data Center, U.S. Geological Survey

Flood Effects

This sequence of images, collected by the LANDSAT Thematic Mapper, illustrates the physical effects of flooding, as seen along the Missouri River in the fall of 1993.
During the flood, the river's boundaries are extended, creating wetland areas beyond the active river channel. One month later, water saturated land can still be seen in the dark blues, blue-grays, and olive greens of the post-flood image. The white to light gray areas reveal the presence of overlying sand deposits.
Courtesy of EROS Data Center, U.S. Geological Survey

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These Landsat scenes vividly illustrate how much damage gypsy moths can inflict on forested regions. The image on the top is a view of an area in Pennsylvania in May 1977. The red color represents healthy vegetation. The picture on the bottom is from July when the gypsy moths have grown to full size. Note how much vegetation has been removed.
Courtesy of D. Williams, Goddard Space Flight Center.

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May 1977

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July 1977


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This Landsat image shows cornfields in Kansas planted using a circular irrigation pattern. The blue areas indicate healthy corn while the pink represents areas damaged by lack of water.
Courtesy of Patricia Jaccobberger-Jellison


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Landsat images have been used to map sites of possible archaeological interest. Study of this image helped scientists to locate the lost city of Ubar in Southern Oman, on the Arabian Peninsula.
Courtesy of Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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