Earth Observing-1: Ten Years of Innovation
Steep cliffs surround the hot, brown valley that holds Khirbat en-Nahas, one of the largest copper mining and smelting sites of the ancient world. The desolate valley in Jordan is not the cradle you would expect to nurture a civilization, but archeologists Stephen Savage and Tom Levy think it may be the site of an early organized state.
“Copper mining and smelting is a hallmark of early state-level society in the eastern Mediterranean,” says Savage, a researcher from Arizona State University. His team is uncovering evidence for sophisticated economic and political activity in the valley about 3,000 years ago.
Savage has never been to Khirbat en-Nahas, but he is revealing things about the site no archeologist has been able to see before. Instead of spending sweltering days in the desert, Savage logs in to a website, clicks on a map to select a location, and clicks “submit”. With that, he has requested that NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite point its instruments at his site the next time it flies over.
This type of user-driven experience was not part of the initial plans for EO-1, but it is an example of the spirit of exploration and experimentation that has characterized the mission.
Scheduled to fly for a year, designed to last a year and a half, EO-1 celebrates its tenth anniversary on November 21, 2010. During its decade in space, the satellite has accomplished far more than anyone dreamed.
“Earth-Observing-1 has had three missions,” says mission manager Dan Mandl of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). Its original mission was to test new technologies, a mission completed in the first year. Its second mission was to provide images and data. Its third mission was to test new cost-saving software that operates the satellite semi-autonomously and allows users to target the sensors.
All of the missions come down to one thing: “We’re the satellite people can try things on.” Mandl calls EO-1 NASA’s on-orbit test bed, and the name rings true.