The year was 1984. Apple released the first Macintosh computer, Ronald Reagan defeated Walter Mondale to win his second term as president, Michael Jackson’s Thriller was the best-selling album of the year, and NASA launched Landsat 5. This past June, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) sent the last command to Landsat 5, instructing it to shut down its transmitter. According to Guinness World Records, Landsat 5 now holds the record for the longest operating Earth-observation satellite. The Landsat program began in 1966 as the Earth Resources Technology Satellites Program, changing its name to Landsat in 1975. The first satellite, retroactively named Landsat 1, was launched in 1972. Landsat 5, equipped with a Multispectral Scanner System (MSS) and Thematic Mapper (TM), was launched as a backup to Landsat 4. After Landsat 4 was decommissioned in 1993, and Landsat 6 failed to reach orbit, Landsat 5 became the primary U.S. satellite for global image acquisition for that period of time and saved the continuity of the Landsat program. Originally designed for a three-year mission, Landsat 5 outlived its life expectancy by a quarter of a century, a remarkable feat considering the far shorter lifespans had by many of its predecessor and successor Landsats. After 29 years, 3 months, and 4 days of operation, more than 150,000 orbits, and 2.5 million images collected, a gyroscope failure finally ended its mission. According to the USGS, Landsat 5 was “by any measure…an extraordinary success,” making “unprecedented contributions to the global record of land change.”

Featured image credit: NASA


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