It's Been Worth the Wait!


As a 30 year-old research assistant at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, I have a unique perspective of the Apollo missions. I was not alive when humans last walked on the moon; the Apollo missions were part of my parents’ generation. With live televised coverage from the lunar surface and glossy photo spreads in magazines, places like Tranquility Base, the Descartes Highlands, and Fra Mauro became familiar during the Apollo program. However after the final Apollo mission left the moon, many forgot these significant lunar landmarks. That changes today. With the amazing images of the Apollo landing sites taken through NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), the Apollo landing sites are once again significant for today’s generation.


These images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), released July 17, show
five of the six Apollo landing sites with arrows pointing out the lunar descent
module visible resting on the lunar surface. (NASA/GSFC/ASU)
View other images of the moon in our blog’s Flickr gallery.

The Apollo landing sites are no longer simply historic sites revealed through 40 year-old images taken by the Apollo astronauts.  Instead, they are dynamic landscapes that can be seen in a new light through LRO. These special areas on the moon now have a new life, with the help of a reminder that 40 years ago humans spent days exploring the surface of our neighbor in space.

For me, these photos have an additional dimension as they remind me of why I’ve always been interested in the moon. In the mid 1960s my father worked on the Apollo program, building parts for the astronauts’ backpacks, known as the Portable Life Support Systems (PLSS).  At the end of each lunar landing mission, in order to reduce the mass launched into lunar orbit, the astronauts would toss the PLSS’ onto the lunar surface; they were left behind and quickly forgotten. However, those who built the PLSS did not forget them. Before the packs were finished and shipped off, the engineers would etch their signatures on parts of the PLSS frame. So when the packs were left on the moon, the signatures also remained as a permanent monument to their achievements. So now when I look at these amazing photos, I can’t see those backpacks in these images, future images of the sites may show them, but I do see places where my dad’s name will be found forever.


This photo from the Apollo 17 mission shows the Portable Life Support Systems
backpack that Noah’s father worked on in the foreground. (NASA
)

LRO is an important mission for lunar scientists for many reasons. For me one of the most important reasons is that we’ll address many science questions that we’ve come up with in the 40 years since Apollo 11. How many craters have formed on the moon in the last 40 years? How deep are all those craters? LRO data will also help us plan for sending humans back to the moon, we’ll be able to find the safe and scientifically interesting places where humans can explore. So for the next decade or so, we will turn to data from LRO to select the places we want to send astronauts to for long periods of time. If I can’t be one of those astronauts, hopefully I’ll be able use the data from LRO to help train the astronauts that will go there. While the Apollo missions might have been for my parents’ generation, LRO is also for my generation, and for the generations that will follow. And maybe, one day, I’ll be able to get my name onto the lunar surface too!

Noah Petro, lunar geologist

22 thoughts on “It's Been Worth the Wait!”

  1. I had just turned four years old in July, 1969. I remember watching the launch on the small color TV in my parents’ bedroom. I also remember drinking orange Tang and eating “space food” – the stuff that looked like a cross between a Tootsie Roll (TM) and a long piece of beef jerky, individually wrapped to keep the freshness (and excitement) locked inside until snack time.
    I also remember going into the backyard to watch out for pieces of SkyLab that might be falling, feeling both sad and relieved at the same time.
    As a computer programmer for the past 28.5 years, I owe my living and my family’s health and security to NASA and all those who followed, driving technological innovation at breakneck speed, but inspired by and for people.
    Technology doesn’t solve problems. People solve problems… for people.
    The human spirit cannot be suppressed. We are driven to explore, to learn, to grow. It has been said that change is the only constant in the Universe. Everything is in motion.
    The question is: are we moving forward or backward?

    Rick Carlson
    New Braunfels, Texas

  2. This is wonderful!

    I am 52. I remember the Apollo missions, I remember the end of them too soon, when we lost sight of why we explore. Many feel we should press directly to Mars, but I think ideally we ought to work toward both the Moon and Mars, the former teaching us how to do the latter in better and maybe safer ways.

    We should have done this already. Let’s try not to falter again. 🙂

  3. Finally these new photos should shut the conspiracy people up.!!.Brilliant to see the hardware still sitting there after all these years. I would like to see the images blown up a bit though .

  4. Noah:

    You asked, “How many craters have formed on the moon in the last 40 years?” The answer, for certain, is “at least one.”

    Approximately six months after the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, NASA stated in a press release that the seismic instruments left behind by the crew had detected a major impact by a meteorite. The science at the time could not determine the size of the meteorite or its distance from the landing site. However, all NASA could say was that the impact was “dangerously close” to where the astronauts had walked only months earlier.

    I also recall the late Walter Cronkite, while covering the “splash down” of Apollo 17, remarking that miles of seismic tape had been collected and remained to be analyzed.

    Since then, I have anticipated the day when new images from the moon and analysis of the seismic data would provide an answer. I was in my teens then. I hope that scientists not even born at the time will be able to resolve the mystery.

    Phil Whitehead
    Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

  5. I myself had my 4th birthday party that day. I remember watching it on the black and white TV with both my parents sitting there on the couch beside me. I was extremely happy, had a very good reason to be so happy. Look what was happening on MY special day. lol! Yes, I’m very proud to be sharing my b-day with something of this magnitude. Thanks NASA for all of it! The moon walk, and the Viking landing in the 70’s.

  6. Dear-Reader Good-Mornning ,Hello Nasa-California- yes I love Me the Big NASA -of Califonia -Dream-Dear Reader -thank’you for -All States-United it is kamel for you -Algerian-Young 38 years Old I am forever of reasearche of the New-evenment -and I am a smal-Writer But thank’you Nasa….Again.

  7. Well Graham I hear what you are saying, but you know that today you can use Photoshot to put a picture of Barack Obama on Mars.. 🙂
    What I'm trying to say is that conspiracy people can still claim it's a conspiracy..

  8. I’d be interested to know the geology of the Moon; microtubule caves that are suitable to be pressurized and pneumatized. I wonder if big oil can be given an incentive to study Lunar geology in detail.

  9. I resonate with these comments, and I have been given an incredible, unique opportunity to have my name on the moon as well. As part of the LCROSS engineering team, my name is engraved onto a stiffner plate in the C&DH box of the shepherding spacecraft. When LCROSS impacts the moon on 9-Oct-2009, my name along with many others, will become part of this legacy of excellence in engineering.
    I got to attend the 40th celebration of the Apollo 11 landing at the Nat Air&Space Museum. Neil Armstrong, along with many others spoke that day. But the moment that really choked me up was then they asked for everyone who worked on Apollo 11 who wasn’t an astronaut to stand and be recognized. The applause went on and on. It was an absolutely amazing moment.
    Emory Stagmer
    Lead C&DH Flight Software Engineer, NASA’s LCROSS Program
    Northrop Grumman Tech Services SSC
    (speaking, of course, only for myself and not for NG or NASA)

  10. With the LCROSS impact getting close now, I was wondering if anyone had thought of using LRO to image any of the S-IVB crash sites, to see what we can expect? No one seems to care about anything but the maned landing sites. It would be interesting to see some of our other “junk” that’s lying around.

  11. I am not a scientist or a genius, i would like to convey my message to Nasa “the moon blast mission searching for water” its a bad idea..
    I hope what ever i am gonna say would not make scene…
    But having a blast on moon will effect earth very badly as u can see climatic changes happening which was due to first blast..
    climatic changes are not due to global warming.. but the storms, tsunami and earthquake which took place was due to first mission to find water on moon.

    If u don’t believe my words, For experiment u can try a bigger blast on the moon and then u can see effects on earth….

    Bhushan….

  12. Regardless of the scientific side is touching to know that a future astronaut has a shared history with his father. Yes I was when the man reached the moon and keep the memory of a postcard to the astonishing news that the stamp was on the moon.

  13. I am agree with “Bhushan's point-of-view”.He is saying correct thing, that for searching water and we need not to do blast on moon.It may be harmful.
    If we want water than be has to do efforts on earth only.

  14. Can you see mirages on the moon? Like heat rising or “wet pavement” affects when the sun is shining full on the moon?

  15. Can you see “wet pavement” type mirages on the moon at noon or when the sun is shining brightest on the moon’s surface?

  16. I think it is magnificent that NASA is going back to the Moon!

    Although, since it was done in 1969, why did the the European Space Agency, pour billions of dollars on a Space Station?

    Also, if the rockets and the LEM were so successful landing on the Moon, why ‘Break what works” and spend billions more on the space shuttle that only orbits the Earth?

    Honestly, if you look at the cost in monetary value, and more importantly, the cost in lives, why not stay with the ‘tried and true’ rockets with the safety factor that was achieved 40 years ago.

    Yes tragically, there were losses of the bravest of the brave ( I salute every person that has EVER lost their life for the defense or progression of our Countries) . After the 1969 Moon landing, there were successful landings afterwords with no casualties.

    Perhaps the money would have been better spent on improving a 40 year old system that “100% guaranteed worked” than letting those brave Astronauts give their lives for an untested, and futile gesture.

  17. I think it is magnificent that NASA is going back to the Moon!

    Although, since it was done in 1969, why did the the European Space Agency, pour billions of dollars on a Space Station?

    Also, if the rockets and the LEM were so successful landing on the Moon, why ‘Break what works” and spend billions more on the space shuttle that only orbits the Earth?

    Honestly, if you look at the cost in monetary value, and more importantly, the cost in lives, why not stay with the ‘tried and true’ rockets with the safety factor that was achieved 40 years ago.

    Yes tragically, there were losses of the bravest of the brave ( I salute every person that has EVER lost their life for the defense or progression of our Countries) . After the 1969 Moon landing, there were successful landings afterwords with no casualties.

    Perhaps the money would have been better spent on improving a 40 year old system that “100% guaranteed worked” than letting those brave Astronauts give their lives for an untested, and futile gesture.

  18. I was looking for that type of informative post and i appreciate your blog because of unique content so i am very much thankful to you for sharing such a great information.

Comments are closed.