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Creators of first Landsat satellite visit Lompoc for historic launch of Landsat 9

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Posted at 5:39 PM, Sep 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-28 00:25:16-04

The launch of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Space Force Base on Monday was a milestone moment for several reasons.

It marked the base's 2,000th launch and it was the 300th Atlas rocket to be launched from Vandenberg.

For NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, it also marks nearly 50 years of the Landsat program.

The Atlas V rocket launched Monday delivered the Landsat 9 satellite into orbit.

The Landsat program was started in 1972 to provide a record of Earth's changing landscapes.

On Monday, some of those who created the first Landsat satellite, Landsat 1, were in Lompoc to witness the launch of Landsat 9.

"We really weren't sure how universally used it would become because after we launched with the first four spectral bands, people came out of the woodworks with, 'oh, we can do this' and so it sort of caught fire from there, the uses," said Virginia Norwood, creator of Landsat 1.

Landsat was created at the Santa Barbara Research Center. Norwood was the lead on the project.

"From the very start, I was helping concoct the ideas of how this device might be built. I think I started working with Virginia in 1968, first of all just to get ideas, then I did the design for the optics which included mirrors, relays, detectors, things like that," said Richard Cline, Landsat 1 optics.

They also had to figure out how to keep the satellite's parts cool.

"You need a cooler to cool the infrared detector up in space that's gonna work reliably. The special part of this radiation cooler was that it did not have any moving parts so if there's any problem, you can't send anyone in space to take care of it so the cooler worked essentially forever," said Wally Kunimoto, project engineer and radiation cooler designer.

Every Landsat satellite has been launched from Vandenberg since the program started in 1972.

"You've got 50 years of what the Earth was doing in photos in a database that can be achieved free of charge," said James Snell, Landsat 1 Associate Program Manager.

Landsat 9 will replace Landsat 7, which was launched in 1999, and together with Landsat 8, will collect images of Earth's forests, farms, cities, lakes, and coastlines.

Each new satellite is engineered to continue where the last satellite left off when it comes to data retrieval.

"We had spectral wavelengths in the camera that gave us good pictures and gave the scientists the basic information that they needed to refine for later satellites," said Ralph Wengler, Landsat 1 Project Manager.
According to NASA, Landsat 9 can take more than 700 images of Earth per day.

To learn more about the Landsat program, visit the NASA website.