Lunar Missions Start Their Roll Toward the Moon


Even though it was a scorching 90 degrees at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA’s two lunar missions, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, made their roll to launch complex 41 looking sharp. Compared to the space shuttle, the roll was quick and took only about 35 minutes..not bad at all.


Watch the rollout (MP4, 14 MB)


An United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellites (LRO/LCROSS) rolls out from
its Vertical Integration Facility at Space Launch Complex-41, Cape Canaveral Air
Force Station, Fla. Image credit: United Launch Alliance/Pat Corkery

The two missions are scheduled to launch together tomorrow (Thursday June 18) and have three launch opportunities, starting at 5:12 p.m., 5:22 p.m. and 5:32 p.m. EDT.

To the moon or bust!

 

Exploring the Lunar Surface


With a complicated launch manifest on the range in Florida, LRO/LCROSS has already had to wait its turn behind other launches. The latest space shuttle mission to the International Space Station delayed LRO and LCROSS launch once more with a leaking hydrogen valve. Summer weather at Cape Canaveral is fraught with thunderstorms that could challenge a launch, but with any luck, technology and weather will cooperate and the lunar missions will get to take off just a couple of days behind schedule.

Even so the moon is back in our sights. We know many facts about the moon, more than we know about any world beyond our own except perhaps Mars, yet we have barely begun to solve its countless mysteries. Our nearest neighbor is a witness to 4.5 billion years of solar system history, and it has recorded that history more completely than any other planetary body. Nowhere else can we see back with such clarity to the time when Earth and other terrestrial planets were formed and life emerged. Since we’ve already been to the moon, why go back? Most don’t realize that we’ve only scratched the surface as far as our closest celestial neighbor is concerned.

Whatever happens with launch this week, there is high anticipation for these first NASA steps back to the moon in many years. They are the precursors to a much broader knowledge of our neighbor and a potential human return to the moon. It won’t be long before we can look up at the moon, and who doesn’t nearly every day, and know that LRO is bathing the companion of our night sky with its laser altimeter and opening the wide eyes of its cameras for what are sure to be astounding views. And we can look forward to an October fireworks show as LCROSS impacts the moon and exposes minerals that have been hiding for billions of years. Even if you don’t live in an area where the impact is visible, the streaming images online are going to be amazing.

Only by returning to the moon to carry out new scientific explorations and prepare for a potential human return can we hope to narrow the gaps in understanding and learn the secrets that the moon has kept for eons.

NASA's New Moon Missions Seek Answers about Lunar Environment


NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, began their journey to the moon rolled out to launch complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Center at about 1:30 a.m. EDT on May 28.

The missions are scheduled to launch together aboard an Atlas V rocket on June 17. The satellites will help to set the stage for future lunar exploration and scientific research.

Since the moon is only four days away, we want to use Earth’s closest neighbor to explore before we take bigger steps into the solar system for longer-term exploration.

Just as a scout finds the safest ways for expedition on Earth, NASA will send a robotic scout, LRO, to gather crucial data on the moon’s topography, composition and environment. LRO follows in the footsteps of Ranger, Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor. These predecessors to the Apollo missions searched for the best possible landing sites.

LRO and its seven instruments are designed to find possible landing sites, locate potential resources, characterize the lunar radiation environment, and test new technology. It will create a comprehensive atlas of the moon’s features. After launch, LRO’s journey to the moon will take approximately four days. After about sixty days, LRO will enter its operational circular polar orbit, about 31 miles above the moon’s surface. The data sets gathered by LRO will enable a safe and productive human return to the moon.

LCROSS is a spectacular mission will attempt to determine if water ice occurs in areas of permanent shadow near the lunar poles. LCROSS uses the spent second stage of the Atlas rocket, the Centaur, as an SUV-sized kinetic impactor that will excavate a small crater on the floor of a permanently shadowed lunar crater. The Centaur has never been used in this way before. The LCROSS spacecraft will fly through the Centaur impact plume to search for signs of water ice before impacting the lunar surface and creating a second debris plume. Both plumes and their resulting craters will be observed closely by LCROSS mission scientists and astronomers around the world.

LCROSS represents a new generation of fast development, cost-capped missions that use off-the-shelf hardware and flight-proven software to achieve focused mission goals. Whatever the mission discovers about the presence of water will increase our knowledge of the mineral makeup of the most remote areas of the moon, the deep polar craters where sunshine never reaches.

More pictures: http://mediaarchive.ksc.nasa.gov/search.cfm?cat=201
More about LRO: https://www.nasa.gov/lro
More about LCROSS: https://www.nasa.gov/lcross