Wednesday, July 7, 2010

LRO Anniversary

After about a year on the job, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has returned more sheer data than any other space probe in history, and it's still performing exceedingly well. LRO has helped confirm the existence of water ice-- plus other useful compounds-- in the deep cold of permanently shadowed craters. It has photographed Apollo landing sites, even imaging the tracks astronauts left behind. It is conducting the best study of the lunar far side yet undertaken, and it continues to build a high precision map of virtually the entire lunar surface.

LRO was conceived and launched as part of the effort to return American astronauts to the Moon. That program is all but abandoned, but the scientific return of LRO will revolutionize our understanding of the Moon. Those detailed maps meant to guide NASA astronauts may yet have a purpose, too. There is some sentiment around the world for establishing an international lunar base program. There are also private companies looking to make profits on the Moon. Interorbital Systems, for one, plans to build a large, private lunar base within a few years. Surely, top quality surface and mineral maps would be exceedingly useful to IOS and other entrpreneurs.

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