Earth-Observing Satellite Is Launched by NASA at Crucial Moment

NASA is expected to launch today its newest Earth-observing satellite, Landsat 8, at a time when previous Landsat satellites have either stopped working or have developed serious technical problems. NASA scientists say the launch of the $855 million satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California is vital to the space agency’s mission of monitoring the Earth during a period of unprecedented environmental change — from disappearing glaciers and sea ice, to widespread forest loss, to intensifying destruction from natural disasters. The first Earth-observing satellite, Landsat 1, was launched in 1972. Today, two Landsat satellites remain functional, but NASA engineers have struggled to fix problems with the satellites, including the failure of transmitters to send images back to Earth and a sensor problem on Landsat 7 that blanks out a fifth of each image it collects. Ted Scambos, a senior scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, called Landsat satelites a “phenomenal” tool for documenting the loss of ice sheets and sea ice, adding, “Landsat 8 couldn't come at a better time, because of the way things are changing right now.”

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