All Tied Up: The 40 Year Old Geographer

OK, this month I have reached the second (or fourth, depending on your reckoning) milestone in terms of birthdays. The first, of course, is 21, where in the US you are legal to do pretty much anything except rent a car. The other two, if you are using the looser reckoning, are 16 (OK to drive on your own) and 18 (you are an “adult”).My preferred second milestone doesn’t really come with anything added to your capabilities, and I am pretty sure that for me it will be just any other day (I will be sure to tweet if something spectacular occurs). This month, I turn 40.

Normally, I wouldn’t talk about my age, I don’t even have my birthday listed on Facebook, but this year has me thinking. I am younger than Esri and Intergraph by a few years, older than Imagine and ENVI by the same number of years, and I am only a few months behind the launch of the Landsat program. And this is really where my forty years comes in. As I look at the Landsat program I can see the life moments that it has gone through: the starts and stops, the reimaginings, the times when perseverance was all that kept it going, and the times that everything came together.

Unlike most of us when we reach 40, however, the Landsat program can look back at its life so far and see that it has changed the way we look at the world. And with continued support beyond next month’s launch of the LDCM, we can hope that the program is nowhere near middle-aged (fingers crossed for no looming midlife crisis…for Landsat or me).

Looking back at the Landsat program, it began as most, a newborn that no one was sure where it would go. By the time it was three, it gained a new awareness of the world (Landsat 2 – 1975), but continued grow. Just after it turned five, Landsat showed its precociousness (Landsat 3 – 1978) with the addition (though short lived) of a thermal band. By the time the program turned ten, Landsat was ready to move to middle school (Landsat 4 – 1982). It kept many of its friends (MSS) from its previous school, but made new friends (TM) as well and was getting better at seeing what was around (30m max resolution). As junior high came around (yes, we used to have those in North Carolina at least) the program hit its stride. It wasn’t necessarily the most popular kid in school, but all of the geeks thought it was great (Landsat 5 – 1984) and was willing to work hard.

In the college years, Landsat had some setbacks, it tried to reach orbit, but it just didn’t happen (Landsat 6 – 1993). In fact, it was kind of shaken by this and didn’t try again for a few years (Landsat 7 – 1999). It made it this time, complete with new glasses (ETM+). It found its stride; it wasn’t just the geekiest of folks looking at it anymore, it began to make new friends and was always willing to share. The Landsat program had some problems with technology and financing like anyone in the 2000’s, but the program stayed its course and persevered, with its two trusty workhorses, Landsat 5 and Landsat 7. Right now, it is overcoming some issues, but looking at the potential for a great promotion this year.

In this description, I can see any number of people that I grew up with. The only difference is that most of my friends haven’t switched whisk-brooms for push-brooms, or even want to deal with brooms I would guess.

On a side note, I can imagine how excited and nervous the Landsat team is right now with less than a month to go before the long-awaited LDCM launch, and not much more before the highly anticipated first test images are released, and I hope they remember that they have the support of a community that continues to grow and relies on their great efforts and achievements.

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Jesse is Instructor in Geography and a PhD candidate in Geography focusing on the integration of phenomenology and geospatial technologies to study prehistoric cultural landscape. He is a GIS Professional and Registered Professional Archaeologist and holds an MA in Geography and a BS in Anthropology with a concentration in archaeology.