Gyroscope Failure Signals the End For Landsat 5 Satellite

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In case you missed it during the end-of-the-year holiday madness, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have announced the end of the longest-running Earth observing satellite mission in history.

The Landsat 5 mission has been orbiting Earth and recording global land change for over 29 years. Though the satellite (which was only designed for a five-year life-span) has been repaired on multiple occasions, the failure of a gyroscope has ended the long-running mission.

"This is the end of an era for a remarkable satellite, and the fact that it flew for almost three decades is a testament to the NASA engineers and the USGS team who launched it and kept it flying well beyond its expected lifetime," said Anne Castle, assistant secretary for Water and Science at the U.S. Department of the Interior. "The Landsat program is the 'gold standard" of satellite observation, providing an invaluable public record of our planet that helps us tackle critical land, water, and environmental issues."

Landsat 5 has now orbited the Earth over 150,000 times and transmitted over 2.5 million images of the planet's surface. In its nearly three decades of service, the satellite has photographed the impact of natural disasters, climate change, land use practices, urbanization, and agricultural practices on the Earth's surface.

"Any major event since 1984 that left a mark on this Earth larger than a football field was likely recorded by Landsat 5, whether it was a hurricane, a tsunami, a wildfire, deforestation, or an oil spill," said Marcia McNutt, USGS director. "We look forward to a long and productive continuation of the Landsat program, but it is unlikely there will ever be another satellite that matches the outstanding longevity of Landsat 5."

The Landsat program will continue with Landsat 7, which was launched in 1999 and is still in orbit. In addition, the next Landsat satellite, Landsat 8, is scheduled to be launched sometime next month, February 2013.

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