The US Geological Survey will soon shut down Landsat 5, an observational satellite that has been running since 1984. Landsat 5 was designed for a three-year run, but it's now orbited the Earth over 150,000 times and transmitted 2.5 million images in nearly three decades, making it the longest-running Earth-observing satellite, though not the oldest satellite still in orbit. "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," says USGS Director Marcia McNutt.
It's also malfunctioned several times in the past, sometimes temporarily going out of commission while being stabilized. On December 21st, however, the USGS announced that a gyroscope had broken, putting it beyond repair. It will be decommissioned over the course of the next several months.
"Any major event since 1984 that left a mark on this Earth larger than a football field was likely recorded by Landsat 5."
Landsat 5 occupies a special position for the USGS — when it suspended imaging because of a transmission problem in 2011, Rick Allen of the Landsat Science Team composed a poem to celebrate its work. Besides Landat 5, the only other active USGS observation satellite is Landsat 7, launched in 1999 and pictured above. Another satellite, dubbed Landsat 8, is scheduled to launch in February of 2013. If you're hungry for more Landsat footage, you can see the launch of the first satellite in 1972 or a time-lapse video of imagery produced by Google.