As NASA makes plans to launch a new spacecraft to the moon, the space agency is looking back at the glory days of its Apollo mission.
Thanks to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), a spacecraft which is currently orbiting the moon, NASA has captured the sharpest images ever of the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 landing sites. The images show what the astronauts did while they were on the moon and some of their footsteps.
We can retrace the astronauts' steps with greater clarity to see where they took lunar samples, Noah Petro, a lunar geologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. and member of the LRO project science team, said in a statement.
Among the images the LRO clarifies is the tracks laid down by the Apollo 17 rover, the foot trails left by those astronauts and where some scientific instruments were laid down. Also seen is where the astronauts placed the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP).All three images show the trails left by the three different Apollo crews.
The NASA researchers credit the Narrow Angle Camera, which they say sharpens the view of the moon's surface. Previous cameras were able to get images of the rover tracks, but this one shows the sharp parallel lines on the surface.
The images were also made possible by an adjustment made to LRO's orbit. The researchers made the orbit more elliptical, so the lowest part of the orbit is on the sunlit side of the moon. It lowered the LRO from its usual altitude of approximately 31 miles (50 kilometers) to an altitude that dipped as low as nearly 13 miles (21 kilometers).
These images remind us of our fantastic Apollo history and beckon us to continue to move forward in exploration of our solar system, said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.