The first images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, are in. The images were taken along the moon’s terminator — that’s the dividing line between day and night — giving scientists a good look at the topography. It’s exciting times for the LRO scientists and the folks at NASA’s Constellation program because the close-up camera shots will help determine safe landing sites for future explorers, locate potential resources, describe the moon’s radiation environment and demonstrate new technologies. It means NASA is another step closer to returning humans to the moon.
The satellite also has started to activate its six other instruments. The Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector will look for regions with enriched hydrogen that potentially could have water ice deposits. The Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation is designed to measure the moon’s radiation environment. Both were activated on June 19 and are functioning normally.
Instruments expected to be activated during the next week and calibrated are the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, designed to build 3-D topographic maps of the moon’s landscape; the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment, which will make temperature maps of the lunar surface; and the Miniature Radio Frequency, or Mini-RF, an experimental radar and radio transmitter that will search for subsurface ice and create detailed images of permanently-shaded craters.
The final instrument, the Lyman Alpha Mapping Project, will be activated after the other instruments have completed their calibrations, allowing more time for residual contaminants from the manufacture and launch of LRO to escape into the vacuum of space.
This instrument is an ultraviolet-light imager that will use starlight to search for surface ice. It will take pictures of the permanently-shaded areas in deep craters at the lunar poles.
Can’t wait to see and learn more.