Apollo Astronauts’ Moon Landing Sites Shot by NASA Orbiter

Sep 6, 2011 5:43pm

Nearly 40 years after the last Apollo astronauts left the surface of the moon, a NASA probe in lunar orbit has returned new images of the places where they landed. Below is what remains after astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt explored on Apollo 17. Take a look.

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Apollo 17 landing site. Credit: NASA

There is a much larger version of the image HERE, and it’s worth a look. The image was recorded last month by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a robotic spacecraft circling at an altitude of just 13 miles, and NASA says it is clear enough that one can make out the tire tracks of the astronauts’ lunar rover (LRV in the large image); the landing legs of their landing ship Challenger (this was 13 years before the loss of the space shuttle of the same name); even — look at the inset in the bottom left of the image — the backpacks (Personal Life Support Systems or PLSS) the astronauts tossed out the hatch after they were done with their moonwalks.  Dark areas, especially around the lander, are left by the astronauts’ footprints.

“The new low-altitude Narrow Angle Camera images sharpen our view of the moon’s surface,” said Mark Robinson, principal investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s camera, in a statement. “In previous images the rover tracks were visible, but now they are sharp parallel lines on the surface.”

When NASA released the orbiter’s first image, of the Apollo 11 landing site, in 2009 (see my post at the time HERE), a fair number of people saw them as fodder for the never-dying rumors that the moon landings were faked.  Neil Armstrong’s personal answer was that it probably would have been easier to go to the moon than to keep thousands of engineers, scientists, and nosy reporters quiet.

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