June 19, 2009
Now that the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is enroute to the moon (it arrives Tuesday) we might ask where it will point its high-resolution cameras when observations get underway. In fact, scientists have been thinking about that for years; last week they met in Tempe, Arizona, to discuss LRO targeting strategies on the eve of launch.
NASA’s Constellation office, which wants LRO’s maps and pictures to help plan the next lunar landing, had worked up a list of 50 targets—the kinds of places future astronauts might visit, if not an actual list of candidate landing sites. The list was mostly assembled from past studies, and took into account things like scientific interest, ease of access, and whether the location had native resources the explorers could use for fuel or supplies.
NASA then asked a panel of outside scientific experts, the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG), to review the list and see if it made sense. After a bit of shuffling and rearranging, the LEAG came up with their own list of 50 interesting targets on the moon. LRO’s target list will presumably look a lot like this one.
At the top of the list is a large crater called Alphonsus, which has been a favored location since the 1960s, when NASA considered it as an alternate site for one of the later Apollo landings. It’s also where the unmanned Ranger 9 satellite impacted in 1965.
Speaking of impacts, have a look at this sequence of Kaguya’s final images before it hit the moon on June 10. Click on the arrows to advance the view.