When NASA first started putting things into space, it was with the express intent of finding out more about the planets and stars that surround us. It wasn’t until the mid '70s that NASA decided to start studying our own planetary mass, launching a satellite program they called Landsat on July 23, 1972. Landsat, explained the director of the U.S. Geological Survey, would help America “inventory and manage the earth’s resources.”
There have been six other Landsat satellites since then (each one is designed to last around four years in orbit), capturing the changing face of the earth as it’s scarred by pollution, deforestation, development, and obviously, the passage of time. Right now we’re on number seven, a sophisticated earth-observing instrument that sends almost 600 images back to earth every day, supplying Google Earth and other programs with its imagery.
What’s really cool about Landsat, though, is that anyone can pay the USGS to access the data the satellite collects. The caveat is the $600 subscription fee, which may be chump change for Google, but not so for individuals with a penchant for earth watching.
Luckily, USGS anticipated public interest (and lucrative retail potential) in the stunning imagery picked up by Landsat. The Survey holds an annual Earth as Art exhibition that displays the most incredible images of the year at the National Library of Congress in D.C. There’s also an online store that sells posters of the images, each labeled with the words, “Satellite scene chosen for aesthetic interest rather than for scientific interpretation.” Some of the images depict natural phenomena, while others call attention to the ever-increasing havoc humans wreak upon the earth.