Earth  ID: 13907

Go Now! Landsat & the Calypso Caper

In the summer of 1975, Jacques Cousteau, his expert divers, and a team of scientists embarked on a three-week long expedition to see if the newly launched Landsat satellites could measure shallow water depth from space. David Lychenheim, the communications engineer on Cousteau's ship, documented the NASA-led satellite bathymetry experiment. Utilizing David's photography and expedition documents, the story of this once-in-a-lifetime collaboration unfolds. Participants included an Apollo 9 astronaut, a president's son, scientists from NASA, three universities, the Defense Mapping Agency, and the U.S. Coast Guard, as well as the coordination of two research vessels, a T-38 jet, and 13 different satellites for weather, communication, and imagery.

For days, the ships played leapfrog with the Landsat 1 and 2 satellites in the waters between the Bahamas and Florida, sailing 90 nautical miles each night to be in position for the morning overpass of the satellite. Ultimately, research done on the trip determined that in clear waters, with a bright seafloor, depths up to 22 meters (72 feet) could be measured by Landsat. This revelation gave birth to the field of satellite-derived bathymetry and enabled charts in clear water areas around the world to be revised, helping sailing vessels and deep-drafted supertankers avoid running aground on hazardous shoals or seamounts.

"It was a tremendous example of how modern tools of scientists can be put together to get a better understanding of this globe we live on," the Deputy NASA Administrator, George Low, said of the expedition in a 1976 interview. But it couldn't have happened without the world's most famous aquanaut, Jacques Cousteau, and his team of expert divers.

The Landsat Program is a series of Earth-observing satellite missions jointly managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Landsat satellites have been consistently gathering data about our planet since 1972. They continue to improve and expand this unparalleled record of Earth's changing landscapes for the benefit of all.


Evangeline Koonce (GSFC Interns): Lead Producer
Matthew Radcliff (KBRwyle): Producer
Evangeline Koonce (GSFC Interns): Editor
Ross Walter (GSFC Intern): Animator
Evangeline Koonce (GSFC Interns): Writer
Laura Rocchio (SSAI): Writer
Ginger Butcher (SSAI): Writer
Bernard Delemotte: Interviewee
David Lychenheim: Interviewee
Ginger Butcher (SSAI): Narrator
Valerie Casasanto (UMBC): Translator
Josephine Hirsh: Translator
Jeffrey Masek (NASA/GSFC): Scientist
Aaron E. Lepsch (ADNET): Technical Support
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Expedition photos courtesy of David Lychenheim. Additional Footage & Photos from Prelinger Archive, Artbeats, Louis Vest, the Cousteau Society, and the Batilus tanker in Saint-Nazaire by Jacques Girard via Wikimedia Commons

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Narrated Movies

SVS >> Bathymetry
SVS >> Coral Reefs
SVS >> Ocean Floor
DLESE >> Physical oceanography
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Oceans
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Oceans >> Bathymetry/Seafloor Topography
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Oceans >> Bathymetry/Seafloor Topography >> Bathymetry
GCMD >> Earth Science >> Oceans >> Coastal Processes >> Coral Reefs
NASA Science >> Earth
SVS >> Ocean

GCMD keywords can be found on the Internet with the following citation: Olsen, L.M., G. Major, K. Shein, J. Scialdone, S. Ritz, T. Stevens, M. Morahan, A. Aleman, R. Vogel, S. Leicester, H. Weir, M. Meaux, S. Grebas, C.Solomon, M. Holland, T. Northcutt, R. A. Restrepo, R. Bilodeau, 2013. NASA/Global Change Master Directory (GCMD) Earth Science Keywords. Version