Zooming in on Apollo: New Images of the Moon From LRO

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LRO Image of the Apollo 17 Landing SiteLRO Image of the Apollo 17 Landing Site

A portion of the Apollo 17 landing site from new LRO images. (Image: NASA/ASU)

The Apollo missions to the Moon. Few things stand out in modern human history that are as momentous. Now, thanks to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO for short, we have new views of three of the Apollo landing sites in unprecedented detail.

The LRO mission has been producing incredible data. We have reported on the images of the Apollo landing sites taken previously and the stunning image of Tycho Crater. We have also talked about LRO’s sister mission, LCROSS, that impacted the Moon and led to a discovery of ice on the lunar south pole. We have come to expect a great deal from LRO imagery. The new images that were released on Tuesday continue to astound.

The images show the Apollo 12, 14, and 17 landing sites in amazing detail. The LRO team was able to capture these images without changing the average altitude of the LRO orbit. They simply made LRO’s orbit slightly more elliptical and moved the orbit’s low point, called the periapsis, to around 21 km and to occur when LRO was on the bright side of the Moon. If you want to understand what this means from the perspective of Orbital Mechanics, you can start digging in at Wikipedia’s article on Elliptic Orbits or, if you really want to geek-out and math and physics don’t scare you, check out Fundamentals of Astrodynamics by Bate, Mueller, and White.

The detail seen in the images is incredible. In all three landing sites, the descent stage of the Lunar Excursion Module, or LEM, is readily visible. The descent stage was left behind when the crew ascended back to lunar orbit to rendezvous with the Command Module for the ride home. The footpaths made by the astronauts as they were walking around are easily visible in all three scenes as is the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP). In the Apollo 17 images, you can see the twin tracks made by the Lunar Rover and the final parking spot of the Apollo 17 Lunar Rover. In the Apollo 14 scene, you can also see the Surveyor 3 spacecraft. These images were taken with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC).

One would hope that images like these would silence those who say we never landed on the Moon, but that is unlikely. People will believe what they wish to believe. If you need some additional firepower in the fight, you can always check out my article featuring some resources in the fight against the hoax theories. I wrote that article mentioning LRO back in 2009, and the mission continues to deliver. Some will still come up with reasons why these images don’t prove anything. Personally, I didn’t need to be convinced, but I can look at these images in detail and picture the environment that so few have been able to see for themselves. Do yourself a favor and take a good look at history frozen in time on the surface of the Moon.

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