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gsmX2 - a member of the History of Landsat GeoTour team
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Virginia Norwood: The Mother of Landsat
Often regarded as the “Mother of Landsat”, Virginia Norwood played a pivotal role in the creation of the primary sensor aboard Landsat 1: The Multispectral Scanner System (MSS). The MSS paved the way for modern remote sensing instruments and provided repetitive observation of the Earth’s changing surface.
Diagram showing how the Mulltispectal Scanner operates from orbit.
Norwood's team designed the Multi-Spectral Scanner (MSS), the experimental instrument flown on the first Landsat. The primary instrument was a television-like camera system known as a Return Beam Vidicon (RBV) – previously used for TIROS weather satellites. But MSS was very different. It was multi-spectral in that it recorded green, red, and near-infrared light by using filters to isolate each wavelength of light. To scan the surface in these wavelengths, it had a scanning mirror that banged back and forth. MSS was later described as “groundbreaking,” but initially, the scan mirror met with great consternation at NASA and USGS. When NASA engineers and USGS scientists saw it, they commented on the noise of the banging mirror, one likening it to a hammer mill. They didn’t think this thing would last long in space.
“Just trying to explain how the banging inertial device worked to a vidicon-conditioned generation of electrical engineers was an uphill task,” Norwood wrote in 1991. “We now had derision that had not been heard since the ‘get a horse’ advice in the early days of the automobile.”
The MSS design ended up being extremely successful and deployed on five of the Landsat satellites—including Landsat 5 which earned the Guinness Record for longest-operating Earth observation satellite!
Landsat 2 MSS image of the Santa Barbara Channel now part of the UNESCO World Register.
While images can be processed from the MSS’s digital data to conduct qualitative analysis like aerial photos, the potential to analyze satellite data quantitatively – i.e. quantitative remote sensing – was revolutionary. In 2011, the MSS data archive of 652,000 images of Earth was accepted into the Memory of the World Register -- a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) effort to preserve access to documentary heritage around the world. As stated in the Landsat MSS archive nomination: “There is simply no other image record of the Earth’s land regions at this scale or over the same period of time (1972-1992).”
This gadget cache emulates the MSS instrument with filters and a scanning mirror.
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