Follow astronauts' footsteps on the moon in new photos
NASA has released photos of the moon taken by an orbiting spacecraft that are so crystal clear that the twists and turns of the paths made when the astronauts explored the lunar surface are visible.
The spacecraft, dubbed Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, is zooming as low as 13 miles above the moon's surface and has captured some of the sharpest images ever taken of the moon landing sites.
NASA's Apollo moon landing missions took place from 1969 to 1972.
"We can retrace the astronauts' steps with greater clarity to see where they took lunar samples," Noah Petro, a lunar geologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said in a statement.
Not only are the astronauts footprints visible, but the flag they planted and the tracks laid down by their moon buggy are evident as well.
“The images also show where the astronauts placed some of the scientific instruments that provided the first insight into the moon's environment and interior,” NASA said.
At each site are trails that run to the west of the landers, where the astronauts placed the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package, or ALSEP, to monitor the moon's environment and interior.
“This equipment was a key part of every Apollo mission,” NASA said. “It provided the first insights into the moon's internal structure, measurements of the lunar surface pressure and the composition of its atmosphere.”
The photos are taken from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s two narrow-angle cameras that have resolutions down to about 3 feet. A third, wide-angle camera is taking color and ultraviolet images over the complete lunar surface at an almost 330-foot resolution. The technology was developed at Arizona State University.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was launched atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on June 18, 2009. NASA said the mission was intended to be the first step to extend human presence in the solar system.
-- W.J. Hennigan
Photo: A newly released image of the landing site of Apollo 17, the last moon mission. Credit: Goddard Space Flight Center / Arizona State University