The data helped to spark a digital revolution among remote-sensing specialists, who have developed tools to exploit massive computing resources and stitch together high-resolution records of global change over time and space. Other space-borne imagers, such as the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites, can take snapshots of larger areas at a single pass, but with much lower resolutions.
With Landsat, “we can get the detail and the enormous geographic coverage”, says Asner. “This alone puts Landsat at the very forefront in land-cover and land-use change monitoring.”
Landsat 8 is scheduled to begin operations 90 days after entering orbit, although the first images could arrive within three or four weeks. The satellite might not live as long as its predecessor, which NASA engineers have put forward as a candidate to Guinness World Records, but Irons believes that Landsat 8 will make its own mark. “I do not think it hyperbole to suggest that all seven billion of us will benefit from the Landsat continuity mission.”