Categories: Earth Observation

Get a $36 Million World Map for Free

When the first Landsat Earth-observing satellite launched in 1972, virtually every piece of technology that we think of as essential for viewing, sharing, or analyzing digital images — like the internet or DVD’s — either hadn’t been invented or commercialized, like the microprocessors that run desktop computers. “It cost about $4,000 for a single Landsat image, and it takes about 9,000 of them to map the land area of the globe,” said Jeff Masek, from NASA. “To make a global image for just one time period would have cost $36 million.” But now, in this age where everything is digital and it’s easy to exchange information, anyone can download Landsat images for free. Recently, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey put the finishing touches on a new collection of mapped images covering the entire land surface of the Earth. However, if you want the entire full-size version, it would be as big as the Hoover Dam.

This collaboration between NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. National Geospatial Agency, the Global Land Survey 2005 features around 9,500 images from NASA’s Landsat satellites captured between 2004–2007.

A Landsat image that could be artwork.

The images are detailed enough to make out features as small as 30 meters (about one-third the length of an American football field), they have been carefully screened for clouds, and each one shows the landscape during its growing season.

Some of the images are as striking as a piece of artwork. Stitched together into a single mosaic, the collection paints the most detailed picture of Earth’s land surface a person can get for free.

For more information see these two Landsat sites:

Source: NASA Earth Observatory

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004, and has published over 6,000 articles on space exploration, astronomy, science and technology. She is the author of two books: "Eight Years to the Moon: the History of the Apollo Missions," (2019) which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible; and "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" (2016) tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond. Follow Nancy on Twitter at and and Instagram at and

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