Sep 17, 2009 | 2
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), launched in June to survey the moon with an eye toward a human return there, is already hard at work. At a news conference from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., NASA presented preliminary results from the spacecraft's instruments, which have just finished a transition from the commissioning to operational phases.
In its one-year primary mission, LRO will seek to map the moon in great detail, measure the radiation that human tissue would be subjected to during a lengthy lunar stay, and search for traces of water ice on the lunar surface. Water would be an invaluable resource for future lunar explorers—astronauts could save enormous amounts of launch weight if they did not have to carry their own water supply.
Sep 11, 2009 | 2
One of NASA's moon probes, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), will complete a relatively simple mission next month: releasing a spent rocket stage toward a shadowy crater, then following it to see what the impact stirs up before crashing the mother ship itself into the crater. All the while, Earth-based and orbiting telescopes will be watching, looking for any evidence of water ice that might be hidden in the crater's depths.
Today, NASA unveiled its target of choice for LCROSS's double impact on October 9: a south-polar crater known as Cabeus A. The 48-kilometer-wide crater is named for 17th-century Italian astronomer Niccolo Cabeo. According to NASA, Cabeus A was chosen both for its potential for harboring water ice and for its location, which will allow Earth observers to track the plumes thrown up by the LCROSS impacts. For a fuller description of the LCROSS mission, see our coverage from June, just before the spacecraft launched.
Jul 2, 2009 | 7
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which reached its destination just last week, is already showing its stuff.
The space agency switched on the LRO's cameras two days ago and today released the first images from the orbiter's mission, which is intended to pave the way for the return of astronauts to the moon.
The LRO snapped surface images near the Sea of Clouds (Mare Nubium) in the moon's southern hemisphere as day gave way to night. The intense shadowing caused by the sun's low angle makes for a dramatic moonscape that exaggerates the contours of the surface features.
Jun 19, 2009 | 5
After failing to get the shuttle Endeavour off the launch pad this week, NASA had better luck with its mission to map the moon.
An Atlas V rocket lifted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). The spacecraft are expected to reach lunar orbit Tuesday morning, and NASA has been tweeting about mission as it unfolds.
Within hours of blastoff, NASA established communication with the LRO to power up the systems needed to control the spacecraft, which will circle the moon at an orbit of 31 miles (50 kilometers) for at least one year to study the lunar surface and scope out potential landing sites for a possible manned moon mission in 2020.
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