TABLE 1.1 Milestones in the Application of Core Areas to National Defense and Intelligence

Year Event
1804 Lewis and Clark began to map and gather intelligence and other information on territory from St. Louis, Missouri, to the Pacific Ocean
1813 The Topographical Engineers began conducting surveys to facilitate the safe movement of troops for the War of 1812
1835 The Navy began to produce nautical charts and, 3 years later, to make astronomical observations
1889 The Army began to collect and compile information on geography and foreign forces, and to communicate it to military attachés during the Spanish-American War
1911 First photoreconnaissance flight. Aerial photography became a major contributor to battlefield intelligence during World War I
1922 First modern bathymetric chart, made using sounding data collected from a Navy ship
1928 The Army Air Corps began producing aeronautical charts
1941 Second World War aviation enabled photogrammetry, photo interpretation, and geodesy to replace field surveys
1953 Navy aircraft began measuring magnetic variations around the Earth; project U.S. Magnet continued until 1994
1956 High-altitude U-2 aircraft began to carry out manned reconnaissance missions, becoming the primary source for intelligence gathering over the Soviet Union and other denied areas
1960 Successful return of imagery from Corona, the first photoreconnaissance satellite system in the world
1960 World Geodetic System (WGS 60) defined an Earth-centered orientation system and formed the basis of current global positioning systems
1966 Launch of the Geodetic Earth Orbiting Satellite, the first dedicated satellite for geodetic studies
1974 First electronic dissemination of near-real-time, near-original-quality overhead imagery to support rapid targeting and assessment of strategic threats
1978 Launch of the first four Global Positioning System satellites, which enabled accurate measurements of position, velocity, and time
1994 Presidential directive PDD-23 directed the National Imagery and Mapping Agency to acquire commercial satellite data
1995 Unmanned aerial vehicles began taking streaming video during reconnaissance flights
2000 The Shuttle Radar Topography Mission began to acquire elevation data over about 80 percent of the Earth’s surface using interferometric synthetic aperture radar
2005 Surface warships began to navigate using digital nautical charts
2006 First automatic construction of the three-dimensional world from diverse sources of photographs and images

SOURCES: Day et al. (1998); Snavley et al. (2006); Clarke (2013a); NGA historical reference chronology, <https://wwwl.nga.miV About/OurHistory/Pagesl default.aspx>.

analysis and the evaluation of natural phenomena and human activities at the Earth’s surface. NGA’s current model for producing geospatial intelligence is illustrated in Figure 1.1 and an example of an information product is shown in Figure 1.2.


Through most of the 20th century, responsibility for specific aspects of mapping, charting, aerial photography, and eventually satellite reconnaissance was distributed among multiple defense and intelligence agencies and departments. In 1996, mapping, imagery acquisition and analysis, and intelligence production were brought together from the Defense Mapping Agency, the Central Imagery Office, and other imagery and mapping departments in a single agency—the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA).1 NIMA’s primary focus was on acquiring and providing imagery and maps to intelligence agencies. Increasing demands for speed, accuracy, and synthesis of geospatial information—especially since the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States—led to the concept of geospatial intelligence or GEOINT, the use of imagery and geospatial data to describe and depict features and activities and their location on the Earth. In 2003, the agency’s name was changed to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to emphasize its mission of producing geospatial intelligence.

NGA is part of the Department of Defense, and it is one of 16 federal agencies responsible for national intelligence. Its emphasis is on military and intelligence


1 See NGA historical reference chronology, <>.

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