Midwestern Roots tie Landsat Mural Artist to USGS EROS Center

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Lompoc, California and the Landsat program have a long and storied history.

All eight Landsat satellites have launched from the military installation now known as Vandenberg Space Force Base (SFB), which will soon host the ascent of Landsat 9. 

Color photo of Ann Thompson and Landsat mural

Mural artist Ann Thompson of Lompoc, CA, pictured on July 27, 2021, with a work in progress: the Landsat 50th anniversary mural. The artwork is set to be unveiled officially on Sept. 12, 2021, just days before the scheduled launch date for Landsat 9. 

(Courtesy: Lompoc Mural Society)

Countless other commercial and civilian satellites have launched from Vandenberg, as well, which helps explain why the southern California city’s fame is tied to the space program. Its Earthbound visitors, however, quickly come to understand why it’s also known as the “City of Murals.” More than three dozen pieces of public art decorate its downtown landscape, telling visual stories of Lompoc’s past, present, and hopes for the future.  

It’s fitting, then, that the launch of Landsat 9 on September 16 will come just days after the unveiling of Lompoc’s newest mural, which commemorates the nearly 50-year legacy of the Landsat program.

The artist behind that mural, as it turns out, has a Landsat connection of her own.

Artist and 20-year Lompoc resident Ann Thompson grew up just 90 miles from the USGS Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center, which has served as a ground station for Landsat and an archive for its imagery since the program’s inception in 1972.

The fields of corn and soybeans that surround the EROS Center, about 18 miles northeast of Sioux Falls, SD, hearken back to Thompson’s formative years on the farm in rural Le Mars, Iowa, where she lived with her parents and nine siblings. They took note of her artistic inclinations early on.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved to paint big,” Thompson said. “I can paint on anything from a canvas to a light switch, but my passion has always been for portraits and murals.”

Evidence of her budding affinity for large-scale projects was present in the family home until her parents moved out, in fact.

“I did a mural in Mom and Dad’s kitchen when I was 16,” Thompson said. “We had a big kitchen put in, and Mom didn’t know what to put on the wall, so I sketched out an idea for an abstract tree. … It stayed up there for 25 years.”

Thompson’s path to the city of murals was a winding one. She was married in Iowa in July of 1972, the same month and year that marked the launch of the first Landsat. Her then-husband convinced her to move to Alaska a few years later, where they stayed until low oil prices and the ensuing downturn in that state's economy sent them back to the Lower 48. A move to California followed, and later a divorce. Thompson stayed in the state, and she re-married and moved to Lompoc in 1999—the year Landsat 7 took off from Vandenberg.

Thompson still has family in Sioux Falls and rural Iowa, but she loves living in Lompoc. She joined the Lompoc Mural Society, participated in several of the city’s 15 annual “Mural in a Day” projects, and eventually became the Society’s curator, responsible for the upkeep of older artworks.

“All the murals in our town have to do with the history of the community,” she said. “There are a couple of teachers in town who actually have their students go around town, pick out their favorite and write up a report on it.”

Color animation of Landsat mural painting

An animation showing progress on a mural in Lompoc, CA, celebrating the Landsat program. (Courtesy: Vandenberg Space Force Base)

She also loves the city’s connection to the space program, as captured in a mural called “Last of the Titans” that depicts the final Titan II rocket launch from Vandenberg.

Thompson didn’t realize the connection between Landsat and her childhood home until her after her 50th anniversary mural design was chosen by NASA from 13 submissions—a selection that came as a shock to Thompson, who learned about the award on April 1, 2021.

“It was April Fool’s Day,” she recalls with a laugh. “I said ‘no, who really got it?’ I really did not expect it to be me.”

It was only after the research materials arrived that she came to understand how close she’s been to the Landsat program throughout her life. It’s something she’s keenly aware of now as she works day by day to turn her idea into a 46-foot by 20-foot reality in downtown Lompoc.

“It makes me feel proud not only to live in the place where they launch these things from, but to be from the place where all those images go,” she said.

Thompson will be on hand on Sept. 12, 2021 for the unveiling of the Landsat mural, which doubles as the kick-off to a week of Landsat-related activity in the city. Follow this link to learn more.

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