Artist’s rendition of Landsat 8 in orbit. (NASA) Enlarge
Since 1972 the Landsat mission has been monitoring natural and human-made changes to our planet. But the continuity of that scientifically precious dataset could be lost unless all goes according to plan on Monday, when the Landsat 8 satellite is scheduled to be launched into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Landsat 8 will take over for thehobbled 14-year old Landsat 7 that has been valiantly carrying the mission alone since December when, after 29 years in orbit, Landsat 5 began to be decommissioned after a gyroscope failure.
The launch is not likely to fail, but if it does, it won’t be the first time the continuity of the 40-year mission was jeopardized. Along the way funding has come under fire, ownership of the satellites has been transferred between government agencies and private companies, sensors have quit working, and one mission tragically failed to reach orbit. If Landsat 8 fails, Landsat 7 would run out of fuel near the end of 2016, before a replacement could be built and put into orbit.
“I’ve devoted the latter part of my career to the formulation and development of this mission,” the project’s lead scientist, James Irons, told Wired. “On Monday I go out there and look at my baby sitting on top of an enormous firecracker and hope everything goes well.”
“Yeah, I’ll be nervous.”
The scientists and engineers behind the Landsat mission will be hugely relieved once the craft is safely in place 700 kilometers above their heads and then begins beaming data back to Earth about a month later.
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