A satellite used to monitor Earth's natural resources launched atop an Atlas V rocket Monday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base near Lompoc.
The 30th Space Wing conducted a viewing party at nearby Providence Landing Park, where coastal fog cleared early Monday to provide a clear sky for the 10:02 a.m. launch. Flight directors described the launch as a "very smooth ride" and said the spacecraft's separation from its booster was successful.
The rocket is carrying an Earth observation satellite designed to monitor a wide range of the planet's resources, such as forest cover and water supply. For example, Landsat images can tell researchers where vegetation is growing and where it is threatened.
The Landsat Data Continuity Mission is a joint mission involving NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
"It comes as a surprise to a lot of people, but our involvement in space technology goes back almost 50 years," said Anne Castle, of the U.S. Department of the Interior. "Back in 1966, the Secretary of the Interior announced a program to use space technology to find solutions to our most pressing natural resource solutions.
"Landsat is our premiere tool for dealing with these kinds of natural resource issues."
The data also helps researchers understand and asses wildfire damage. Click here to view a Landsat image of the June 2011 Wallow wildfire in Arizona.
The first Landsat satellite was launched in 1972. Monday's launch -- the first will carry the eighth satellite in the series more than 400 miles above Earth's surface.
The satellite sits atop a two-stage Atlas V rocket. Once in orbit, the satellite will begin a five-year mission to provide images that are clearer than those provided by previous Landsat missions.
The satellite will join Landsat 5 and 7, which launched in 1999, in orbit. Landsat 5, also launched from Vandenberg AFB, owns the Guinness World Record for "Longest Operating Earth Observation Satellite -- more than 28 years.