Marcia McNutt is stepping down as the director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to return to academia but not before the Landsat Continuity Mission, also known as Landsat 8, is due to launch.

“I am timing my departure so that I can witness the launch of Landsat 8 on February 11, a very significant event for the USGS, and after that I can ride into the western sunset,” McNutt wrote in a Jan. 11 farewell to USGS employees. “As of February 16, Suzette Kimball will be the Acting Director, and Bill Werkheiser will be Acting Deputy Director. A committee of the National Academy is poised to move on making recommendations for my successor, and I know that Secretary [Ken] Salazar will leave you in good hands.”

Before joining the USGS in 2009, McNutt spent 12 years as the president and chief executive of California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

Meanwhile, Salazar announced Jan. 16 that he will be stepping down as interior secretary by the end of March.