Exploration mission phase completed by NASA's lunar spacecraft

Sep 16, 2010
This is an artist's concept of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter with an image of Earth in the background. Credit: NASA

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, will complete the exploration phase of its mission on Sept. 16, after a number of successes that transformed our understanding of Earth's nearest neighbor.

LRO completed a one-year in a approximately 31 miles above the moon's surface. It produced a comprehensive map of the lunar surface in unprecedented detail; searched for resources and safe landing sites for potential future missions to the moon; and measured lunar temperatures and radiation levels.

The mission is turning its attention from exploration objectives to scientific research, as program management moves from NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate to the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington.

"LRO has been an outstanding success. The spacecraft has performed brilliantly," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. "LRO's science and engineering teams achieved all of the mission's objectives, and the incredible data LRO gathered will provide discoveries about the moon for years to come."

The LRO team will continue to send data gathered during the last year to the Planetary Data System, which archives and distributes scientific information from NASA planetary missions, astronomical observations and laboratory measurements.

By the time LRO achieves full mission success in March, and its data is processed and released to the scientific community, it will have sent more information to the Planetary Data System than all other previous planetary missions combined. During its new phase of discovery, LRO will continue to map the moon for two to four more years.

"The official start of LRO's science phase should write a new and intriguing chapter in lunar research," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. "This mission is one more asset added to NASA's vast science portfolio."

The spacecraft launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida carrying a suite of seven instruments on June 18, 2009. LRO formally began its detailed survey of the moon in September 2009.

Results from the mission include: new observations of the Apollo landing sites; indications that permanently shadowed and nearby regions may harbor water and hydrogen; observations that large areas in the permanently shadowed regions are colder than Pluto; detailed information about lunar terrain; and the first evidence of a globally distributed population of thrust faults that indicates the moon has recently contracted and may still be shrinking.

LRO also took high resolution pictures of the Lunokhod 1 rover that had been lost for almost 40 years. The rover, which carries a retroreflector, was located to within approximately 150 feet. The accurate position data enabled researchers on Earth to bounce laser signals off the retroreflector for the first time ever. The retroreflector is providing important new information about the position and motion of the .

LRO also supported the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite impact, a companion mission sent to determine if the moon's poles harbor water ice, by helping to select a promising impact site. LRO observed both the expanding plume that arose after the impact and the evolving temperature at the site.

Explore further: Europe postpones launch of first 'space plane'

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New lunar images and data available to the public

Mar 15, 2010

The public can follow along with NASA on its journey of lunar discovery. On March 15, the publicly accessible Planetary Data System will release data sets from the seven instruments on board NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance ...

Send Your Name to the Moon Aboard LRO

May 01, 2008

NASA invites people of all ages to join the lunar exploration journey with an opportunity to send their names to the moon aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, spacecraft.

NASA Selects Team To Build Lunar Lander

Oct 03, 2005

NASA's Deputy Associate Administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Doug Cooke announced Friday the selection of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., and Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, ...

LRO lunar mission successfully enters moon orbit

Jun 23, 2009

After a four and a half day journey from the Earth, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has successfully entered orbit around the moon. Engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., ...

Recommended for you

Asteroid 2014 SC324 zips by Earth Friday afternoon

4 hours ago

What a roller coaster week it's been. If partial eclipses and giant sunspots aren't your thing, how about a close flyby of an Earth-approaching asteroid?  2014 SC324 was discovered on September 30 this ...

Who owns space?

4 hours ago

The golden age of planetary exploration had voyagers navigating new sea routes to uncharted territory. These territories were then claimed in the name of the monarchs who had financed the expeditions. All ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JamesThomas
1 / 5 (1) Sep 16, 2010
"By the time LRO achieves full mission success in March, and its data is processed and released to the scientific community..." We paid for this, why don't we get to see the pictures??? An just how much "processing" is done and why?

Why so secretive? You would think that high-def pictures and other data of the moon surface should be given to all mankind without having to implement The Freedom of Information Act. NASA, the CIA of space.