On its launch this past October 5, the Landsat 6 remote- sensing satellite crashed into the Indian Ocean--a sourly disappointing turn of events for researchers in several scientific fields. These scientists have grown increasingly dependent on the space device, which scans specific electromagnetic wavelengths from Earth, to supply them with unique data on the ever-changing planet.

For these researchers, this latest setback is representative of the roller-coaster history of the two-decade-old Landsat satellite program, and their experience with it. It is a history marked, on one hand, by the spectacular research applicability of the satellite, far exceeding its initial expectations, and, on the other, by administrative and political decisions that eventually priced the data it collected out of the reach of most researchers, forcing them to abandon it as a viable tool.

The first of the Landsat series of satellites was launched by the U.S. Department of the Interior in...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?