Amazing views of the moon

June 23, 2009 5:23:14 PM PDT
It's a look at the moon unlike anything we've seen. New images now being sent back to earth will give us a three-dimensional map of the surface, including what we left behind there. The lunar reconnaissance orbiter will circle the moon for a year. One of its missions it to look for the perfect spot for astronauts to land. NASA wants to get a crew to the moon, the first such trip in decades.

Tuesday was a taste of things to come, just a glimpse of the moon as a space camera came to life. But five days after launch, it confirms the mission is headed in the right direction and NASA is expecting amazing things.

Since the rocket launched five days ago, it's been speeding toward the moon and a year-long effort to look at every inch of the lunar surface.

"It will be in this orbit at least a year," said Kent Joosten with the NASA Constellation program.

It will focusing close enough to see rocks no bigger than a beach ball. The objective is to find safe spots to set Americans down when we return in 2020.

"We will know the parking spot," said Joosten. "We will know the rocks around the parking spot. We will know the holes around the parking spot."

It is a far cry from what Americans had 40 years ago this summer when they first landed on the moon.

"A lot of it was the crew based on looking out the windows to find a good place to land on," said Joosten.

It's not just a mapping project. The pictures Tuesday were taken by a camera on board a spacecraft which will crash into the moon on purpose in October. It will throw up dust, allowing instruments to look at just what the moon is made of and, together with pictures of the moon's poles, may discover evidence of hydrogen or water. Both are useful if astronauts want to stay on the moon for extended periods.

But the coolest thing may be seeing photos of the things we left behind - the flags, the rovers, parts of the lunar lander. They're tokens of history we haven't touched in decades and won't get back to for at another decade.

"One would hope it will make people believe that we actually landed on the moon if we can take pictures of the things that we left there," said Joosten.

This mission was obviously planned long before President Obama initiated a review of America's space flight program. That review may delay or even put off a lunar landing.

It will be complete in August. By then, you should be able to see far more and far better pictures of the moon.

Thousands of names are also orbiting the moon aboard the LRO. The spacecraft carries a microchip with almost 1.6 million names submitted through NASA. People put their name in a database and are some of the first names to return to the moon.

Bolden and Cornyn meet

The president's pick to head NASA met with Texas Senator John Cornyn in Washington Tuesday. The nomination of former astronaut and ABC13 space consultant Charles Bolden must be confirmed by the full U.S. Senate. Senator Cornyn said he will do what he can to ensure a quick confirmation process.

Moon, Mars and Beyond

As we near the 40th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing, we'll take you back for an insider's look at the mission. It's an Eyewitness News special Thursday night. We'll look back at the Apollo program and also look forward to see how NASA plans to, maybe one day, send astronauts to mars. Tune in Thursday at 7pm for 'Moon, Mars, and Beyond.'

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