In the mid-1960's, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) embarked on an initiative to develop and launch the first Earth monitoring satellite to meet the needs of resource managers and earth scientists. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) entered into a partnership with NASA in the early 1970?s to assume responsibility for archiving data and distributing data products. On July 23, 1972, NASA launched the first in a series of satellites designed to provide repetitive global coverage of the Earth?s land masses. Designated initially as the "Earth Resources Technology Satellite-A" ("ERTS-A"), it used a Nimbus-type platform that was modified to carry sensor systems and data relay equipment. When operational orbit was achieved, it was designated "ERTS-1."
The satellite continued to function beyond its designed life expectancy of 1 year and finally ceased to operate on January 6, 1978, more than 5 years after its launch date. The second in this series of Earth resources satellites (designated ?ERTS-B?) was launched January 22, 1975. It was renamed "Landsat 2" by NASA, which also renamed "ERTS-1" as "Landsat 1." Three additional Landsats were launched in 1978, 1982, and 1984 (Landsats 3, 4, and 5 ). (See table 1).
NASA was responsible for operating the program through the early 1980?s. In January 1983, operation of the Landsat system was transferred to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In October 1985, the Landsat system was commercialized and the Earth Observation Satellite Company, now Space Imaging EOSAT, assumed responsibility for its operation under contract to NOAA. Throughout these changes, the USGS EROS Data Center (EDC) retained primary responsibility as the Government archive of Landsat data.
The Land Remote Sensing Policy Act of 1992 (Public Law 102-5555) officially authorized the National Satellite Land Remote Sensing Data Archive and assigned responsibility to the Department of the Interior. In addition to its Landsat data management responsibility, the EDC investigates new methods of characterizing and studying changes on the land surface with Landsat data.