Four years ago, NASA made a long promised return visit to a place so legendary in the history of space exploration that it felt like a reunion with a long lost relative. With the liftoff of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), NASA ma...
Four years ago, NASA made a long promised return visit to a place so legendary in the history of space exploration that it felt like a reunion with a long lost relative. With the liftoff of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), NASA made a bold statement about its commitment to exploring Earth's closest neighbor, as well as other parts of the solar system.
In the years since it rose on its rocket, LRO has amassed a stunning array of data on a wide range of subjects. From vital research about the formation of the early solar system, to fundamental research about the structure and natural history of the Moon itself, LRO continues to deliver state-of-the-art information about a place that almost every human being has pondered as it drifts through our skies and our collective imaginations.
In the last decade, Europe, Japan, China, India and the United States have all sent unmanned orbiters to probe the Moon’s chemical composition, gravitational field and topography. Among other things, they’ve proved the presence of water, discovered potentially useful minerals and uncovered evidence that the Moon may still be geologically active.
In September, NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) will launch from Wallops Island, Virginia to join LRO in orbit around the Moon. LADEE is designed to study the lunar exosphere and dust in the Moon's vicinity and test a new Earth-Moon laser communication system.
In December, the Chinese Chang'e 3 spacecraft will be launched. The vehicle is designed for a soft landing on the lunar surface at the Sea of Rainbows. The Chang'e 3 mission incorporates a lunar rover, designed to deploy from the lander and explore the lunar surface independently. If successful, it will be the first spacecraft to perform a soft landing on the Moon since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 in 1976, breaking a 37-year gap in lunar surface exploration.