JACIE Team Meets with Man who Inspired Satellite Compendium

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The Joint Agency Commercial Imagery Evaluation (JACIE) recently released a compendium of Land Remote Sensing Satellites.

The need for a quick-reference guide to satellite sensors is important for plenty of reasons, but the circular points to one man in particular as an inspiration for the effort: William E. “Bill” Stoney.

Color photo of NASA's Bill Stoney with USGS EROS staff

Members of the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center Cal/Val Center of Excellence recently met with William "Bill" Stoney to present him with a copy of a USGS circular on land remote sensing satellites inspired by the work of the 94-year-old former NASA engineer. 

Decades ago, the former director of NASA’s Earth Observation Programs began a satellite list of his own, offering basic facts about a variety of commercial and civilian orbiters. Affectionately known as the “Bill Stoney List,” the publication served as a template for the EROS-produced compendium released over the summer.

Three of the EROS staffers who worked on the book had the chance to hand Mr. Stoney a copy of it last month during their visit to Reston, VA for the annual JACIE workshop – an event Stoney spoke at twelve years ago.

Stoney is still friendly and curious at age 94, according to EROS contractor Jon Christopherson. Jon met with Stoney alongside Greg Stensaas and Mike Choate of the USGS, leaving behind two copies of the book after posing for a photo with the old and new versions.

“He was amazed at the number of satellites (orbiting now), and he wanted to know what was being done with all the data,” Christopherson recalls.

Stoney remains a well-known figure within the JACIE community. Attendees of the 2017 workshop encouraged the pursuit of a new satellite compendium.

“People still remembered Stoney’s list in 2017,” Christopherson said.

Stoney’s legacy is further-reaching than his post-retirement contributions to satellite-tracking, however.

Stoney began his career in 1949, before NASA had the name it’s come to be known by. He worked on pilotless aircraft and led the development of the Scout rocket that was responsible for launching satellites aloft from 1961 through 1994.

In 2017, NASA called the rocket “one of the most successful boosters in NASA history” in piece titled “Ten People You Wish You Met,” where Stoney is featured.

“Scout and its payloads led to critical advancements in atmospheric and space science,” it said.

Stoney also served as the head of the spacecraft technology division at the Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston from 1963-68 and director of engineering for the Apollo Program Office. In 1969, he was awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, but he wasn’t finished. He was named director of Earth Observation Programs in 1973, where he worked with the Landsat program.

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