SEASAT sparked to life on the twenty sixth of June 1978 providing heretofore unavailable coverage of the worlds oceans. For the first time a space platform used an array of active and passive microwave sensors which could penetrate weather and cloud layers and were impervious to day/night conditions. As a brand new star in our technological galaxy, SEASAT uniquely mapped the global oceans every 36 hours until a tragic power failure caused its untimely death barely more than 100 days after its birth. What survived was a collection of incredible radar images of surface conditions; a continuous synoptic view of global surface wind and temperature measurements; important topographic data ranging from the essentially stable geoid to the varying behavior of currents, tides and daily sea state of surface roughness conditions; and more importantly the unquenched interest of thousands of users that had been preparing for over five years for SEASAT. The early data that poured forth from SEASAT fanned the already eager interest of domestic and international scientists and industrial users. What remains is a rare and valuable data set that proves that such a system will work/balanced with an unfullfilled need to apply these technologies for the public good in future programs.
The nations users were the architects of the SEASAT program. Beginning as early as 1969, during a conference at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, the needs and requirements for a global "Proof of Concept" remote sensing system were established by the users.
Not since 1872 when scientists set out on a four year voyage to explore the worlds oceans on the HMS Challenger had scientists banded together to sponsor an oceanographic mission with such singleminded purpose. Challenger was, in a way, a voyage to prove that scientists could study the ocean from ships; SEASAT was also a "Proof-of-Concept Mission" - to see if microwave sensors in space could provide clear, accurate, understandable information of direct use to a variety of oceanographic and meteorologic diciplines and to government and industrial users of the oceans as well.
Program ascendance took nearly six years before SEASAT was ready to stand on its own as an approved program in 1975, and 30 months later the system was ready to begin its mission. Condenced in this one statement were years of hard work and painstaking commitment by a large group of users with wide and diverse interests and needs. Meeting several times a year, first as a nonaffiliated User Working Group, later as a NASA sponsored advisory group and finally on their own again during the last year after the advisory group was disbanded by NASA, the users created, defined and protected the program. Many times a meeting would draw more than a hundred participants representing government institutional and industrial interests, and when the program encountered difficulty during House appropriations subcommittee hearings in 1975 these users addressed the issue with direct appeals to the Congress and the program was re-established by the Senate and emerged victorious from a House/Senate conference.