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March 26, 2013

Landsat Lands U.S. Images

By Nicole Spector, Contributing Writer

Oh, snap – Literally! On Monday, NASA unveiled the first photographs from its newest Earth-0bservation satellite, the Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM). The spacecraft, which stands as the eighth satellite in Landsat history, and weighs in at $855 million, caught one of a kind images of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains. LDCM launched last February, and has been undergoing on-orbit testing since then. The satellite was designed to help scientists track environmental change.

Mission officials seem genuinely awestruck by the quality and content of the Landsat's photography. 

“Wow! This is beautiful!” exclaimed Dennis Reuter, TIRS instrument scientist at NASA Goddard in a statement. “Look at those amazing clouds! And the detail!” One of the photos shows the Colorado cities of Boulder and Fort Collins, while another details wilderness in Colorado and Wyoming where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains' Front Range.

The astonishing images probably won't look that astonishing to you unless you're looking for the kind of information that NASA scientists are – like signs of urban expansion, global ice loss, natural resource use and other phenomena to add to a near four decade study of the Earth.  

Scientists say everything is going well with LDCM, but since satellites often have shorter life spans than golden retrievers, NASA officials have planned only a five-year mission for the spacecraft, though are hoping it lasts longer. With the amount of fuel it has, LDCM could run for a full decade. It's predecessor, Landsat 7 is still observing Earth and it's been up there for 14 years.

LDCM still has some calibrations to undergo, and is scheduled to begin normal operations in May. At that time LDCM will be renamed Landsat 8 and handed over to the USGS.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

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