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NGA in History

NGA in History

Charting our past, defining our future: NGA in History

A history project that documents some of the innovators, leaders and defining moments from NGA's past. The project is designed to provide an introduction to not only NGA, but to the history of geospatial-intelligence and all the intelligence disciplines, heritage organizations and trailblazers that came before. For those already familiar with GEOINT the project gives a better understanding of NGA’s importance to national security.

From Lewis and Clark, to World War II, to the Osama bin Laden raid, each update will highlight a defining moment in GEOINT.  NGA will also highlight the leaders of our past, from National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC) Director Arthur Lundahl, to current NGA Director Robert Cardillo.

With its roots in cartography, mapping and imagery analysis, GEOINT is a highly evolved intelligence discipline that goes beyond telling you what is happening, where it is happening and when it is happening — it also reveals how it is happening, why it matters and what is likely to happen next. The term was adopted in 2003 by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, Jr. to properly describe the mission of the agency.

The agency was founded in 1996 as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA). “The history of NGA goes well beyond our name change or even the founding of NIMA,” said Dr. Gary E. Weir, NGA historian. “Look back at the defining moments of our country – from the Revolutionary War on – and you will find GEOINT. Our history is American history.”  

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Featured Moments and Innovators

Apollo 11

Apollo 11

On July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out of the Apollo 11 spacecraft and onto the moon’s surface. When they and fellow astronaut Michael Collins returned to Earth four days later, they fulfilled President John F. Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the moon and return him home safely.

The National Aeronautical and Space Administration, then a relatively new government agency, played the lead role in the mission, but NASA didn’t do it alone. Cartographers from predecessor agencies of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency created detailed maps and charts of the lunar surface, which provided NASA scientists and technicians precise coordinates and optional landing sites.

Beginning in 1957 and 1958, respectively, the Air Force Aeronautical Chart and Information Center and the Army Map Service initiated efforts to collect telescope observations and photographic data with an eye toward composing maps of the moon. With this step, the cause of lunar mapping enlisted for the first time the services of professional cartographers experienced in the production of terrestrial maps of the highest quality.

Without the work of the ACIC and AMS – and later the Defense Mapping Agency – NASA would not have had the critical knowledge of the  moon necessary for the American manned space missions. 

Thomas C. Finnie

Thomas C. Finnie

Mr. Thomas C. Finnie’s was one of the initial eight Department of Defense planners who assisted in organizing the Defense Mapping Agency in 1972 – a heritage organization of NGA. DMA consolidated all military mapping, charting and geodesy and helped form the foundation for the geospatial intelligence of today. Finnie served as DMA’s first director of management and technology and was one of the primary architects of DMA’s evolution to a digital era. His retirement in 1974 capped a 35-year career in the federal government.

Prior to assuming his position with DMA, Finnie worked at the Aeronautical Chart and Information Center, ultimately serving as its technical director, where he led production of maps for the manned spaceflights and lunar landings. Finnie was at Houston mission control when Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. Finnie was inducted into the NGA Hall of Fame in 2001. In 2014, the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation renamed their lifetime achievement award the USGIF Arthur C. Lundahl – Thomas C. Finnie Lifetime Achievement Award to honor the two geospatial intelligence pioneers. 

Key Documents