Brian Jirout, Georgia Institute of Technology

The Greening of Diplomacy: Landsat, Environment, and the Cold War, 1964-1978

On 23 July 1972, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration launched the Earth Resources Technology Satellite 1, later renamed, Landsat 1. Landsat delivered multispectral imagery capable of detecting land cover variables, becoming a new platform for environmental observation. Landsat was launched in the midst of an unstable agricultural market. As early as the 1960s, U.S. Department of Agriculture developed Landsat alongside NASA. After launch, it became a significant user community. The USDA looked to utilize Landsat to make better sense of the world agricultural market which had undergone transformation in the 1960s and 1970s. Newly decolonized states, namely in Africa, relied less on colonial metropoles and more on domestic production and the world market for food supplies. Likewise, a Soviet Union wheat failure precipitated acute shortages and sharply increased prices. The U.S. responded through a series of experiments with Landsat to predict wheat production domestically and internationally. This paper weaves together environmental history with diplomatic history and history of technology frameworks to reveal the impact of Cold War diplomacy on agricultural trends. Also, I contend the environment emerged as a major arena of Cold War struggle and prestige which the U.S. sought to control through Landsat’s capabilities.