Ahead of moon landing anniversary, lunar orbiter retraces astronauts’ first steps

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - Nearly 50 years after Neil Armstrong made that giant leap for mankind, scientists continue to study the moon. NASA is approaching another milestone — the tenth anniversary of its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).

“I think the moon is intriguing to people because anyone can go out on a clear night…and see just with your naked eye bright areas and dark areas,” said LRO project scientist Noah Petro.

The Gray Television Washington News Bureau met Petro at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland where a full-scale model of the orbiter is on display. It’s also home to LRO’s mission operations center.

The orbiter’s original purpose was to map the moon’s surface to determine where astronauts and robots could safely land. It was supposed to last one year. Now, a decade later, LRO has now collected one petabyte of data — the largest of any NASA mission.

“The most impressive discovery is the identification of surface changes,” explained Petro. “With every year or two or three that we’re at the moon…we’re able to really classify the moon, identify the changes in the moon in ways that are unprecedented in planetary science.”

Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, the LRO team embarked on a new project — using the orbiter to retrace the footsteps of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

“If you take their footprints, and you put in the context of something we’re comfortable with, they didn’t leave the infield of a baseball diamond,” explained Petro.

By clicking here (http://lroc.sese.asu.edu/featured_sites/view_site/59), you can see what that first moonwalk looked like from above.

“Now we can take what [Armstrong and Aldrin] were saying on the surface and look at, from orbit, when Neil Armstrong is describing that boulder field, we can see the crater that causes those boulders on the surface. Really bringing in the 21st century the observations from 1969.”

NASA hopes to keep the lunar orbiter going for at least three more years. It has enough fuel for seven.