An Atlas-V rocket carrying a Landsat satellite lifts off Monday at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

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The Landsat 8 satellite went into orbit Monday

It's the latest in a series that's been beaming back data since 1972

The U.S. Geological Survey distributes the imagery for free

NASA put its newest Landsat satellite into orbit on Monday, extending a long-running program that has been beaming back dramatic images of Earth for more than 40 years.

The Landsat Data Continuity Mission – to be designated Landsat 8, once it’s up and running – lifted off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base atop an Atlas V booster.

The $855 million platform, about the size of a sport-utility vehicle, has been in the works for years amid concerns about maintaining the U.S. suite of geoscience satellites.

The first Landsat mission went into orbit in 1972; the last working mission, Landsat 7, was launched in 1999. It’s still sending back images long after its five-year life expectancy, but suffers from a scanner problem that leaves black diagonal streaks across them.

Landsat 5 sent back its last images in January after nearly 29 years; it had been designed to last three.

The new mission’s solar panels deployed successfully after Monday’s launch, and the satellite should be fully operational after about three months of trials, NASA said.

“Everyone’s very relieved. We’ve got good telemetry coming back from LDCM, so all is well so far,” Dunn told NASA TV.

In 2012, the National Academy of Sciences warned that a combination of budget pressure, program delays and a pair of launch failures in 2009 and 2011 left the United States facing a “rapid decline” in its capability to monitor land and seas from space.

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The Landsat program is managed by NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey, which has been distributing the data for free since 2008.

The imagery has been used to monitor urban growth, water use, farm production and a variety of natural disasters, from the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens to the historic earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011.

“Landsat is a centerpiece of NASA’s Earth Science program, and today’s successful launch will extend the longest continuous data record of Earth’s surface as seen from space,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.