Circle of Blue

Two years ago NASA retired its iconic workhorse, the space shuttle. The agency’s scientific mission, however, did not expire, and the agency marks a milestone on Monday with the launch of the eighth version of the Landsat satellite, an essential tool for monitoring the nation’s water resources.

Lifted into orbit by a Saturn V rocket, the satellite will carry two instruments. One, the Operational Land Imager, will track changes in water quality in lakes.

The other instrument measures thermal energy. It will give water managers in the western United States a better sense of how much water irrigated crops are using, said Tony Willardson, the executive director of the Western States Water Council, a body appointed by the governors of the 18 western states.

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