The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) was conceived and designed to support a human return to the Moon, a lofty objective by any measure. Mission planners required a diverse set of measurements to provide high resolution maps of potential landing sites, an assessment of resources, and a deeper understanding of radiation hazards. As a result, LRO carries seven science instruments, including the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, commonly known as LROC (pronounced “el-rock”).
LROC is composed of three cameras: two identical Narrow Angle Cameras (NAC) and one Wide Angle Camera (WAC). The three cameras are controlled with a small processing box known as the Sequence and Compressor System (SCS). The LROC hardware was designed and built by Malin Space Science Systems (msss.com), a small company located in San Diego, CA.After more than ten years in orbit, the LROC experiment has proved to be an overwhelming success, accomplishing much more than the original objectives.
A short list of technical accomplishments includes global maps at varying illumination, maps of permanently shadowed regions, global topography, the first detailed ultra violet map of the Moon, and high-resolution mosaics and topography with coordinate accuracy of better than twenty meters.
Scientific discoveries from LROC images include new insights into the physics of impact crater formation, discovery of very young volcanic features, confirmation that the Moon is shrinking, discovery of silicic volcanoes, a new understanding of how light interacts with the surface, and much more.
It seems we have now come full circle to where we started: NASA is now contemplating a human return to the Moon and we certainly have the LROC observations to guide the way! This turnabout comes as the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing is upon us, adding significance to this historic occasion, which we celebrate here in images new and old.
This small exhibition cannot fully convey the LROC technical and scientific discoveries, but rather is intended to reveal the diversity of the lunar landscape, which can be dramatic, engaging, mysterious, wondrous, and perhaps at times confusing.
To me, the Moon is an alluring destination, somewhere I want to go and explore. It is my hope that the LROC images will reveal a Moon that you never knew existed, a place that you too might like to visit. There is no doubt in my mind that humans will someday return to the Moon, and then move outward to Mars and beyond. The big questions are — when and by whom?
- Mark Robinson LROC Principal Investigator