McNutt Resigns as Head of USGS, But Will Stay Till After Landsat 8 Launches

McNutt Resigns as Head of USGS, But Will Stay Till After Landsat 8 Launches

Marcia McNutt, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), announced her resignation on Friday, but said she would stay until Landsat 8 is launched in February.

USGS operates the Landsat satellites and is responsible for data archiving and distribution.  It recently announced the decommissioning of the venerable Landsat 5 satellite, making Landsat 7 the only operational satellite in the system.  

However, on February 11, the next in the series, Landsat 8 (also called the Landsat Data Continuity Mission), is scheduled for launch aboard an Atlas V from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA.  Assuming it operates successfully, it will extend the existing 40 year data set of medium resolution land imagery begun in 1972 with NASA’s Earth Resources Technology Satellite-1 (ERTS-1).

Photo credit:  USGS website

McNutt said in a letter to employees that she would resign as of February 15, “timing my departure so that I can witness the launch of Landsat 8 … a very significant event for USGS, and after that ride off into the western sunset.”  She expressed regret at leaving, saying that “if it just weren’t for the fact that this job is 2000 miles away from my family and my home, I would be pleased to stay on as long as I was invited to do so.”   The San Diego Reader posted the letter and speculated that McNutt may be headed back to San Diego to become the new head of the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, where she earned her doctorate in earth sciences.

McNutt has been working with colleagues at NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to determine what comes next for the Landsat program.   USGS hoped to take over the program entirely, with NASA as its acquisition agent, but Congress said no, worried that the cost of the program might negatively impact other USGS priorities.   The agencies and the White House have been working on a resolution to the quandary and there is speculation that the FY2014 budget request might reveal the new plan.   It now seems unlikely that the budget request will be submitted to Congress before McNutt leaves, however.  The National Research Council (NRC) also is conducting a study at the request of USGS on how to implement a sustainable land remote sensing satellite program; the report is expected to be released in March 2013.

The American Geosciences Institute tweets (@agigap) that Suzette Kimball will become Acting Director and Bill Werkheiser will be Acting Deputy Director. 

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