Lunar and Planetary Institute






Lunar Science and Exploration
Center for Lunar Science and Exploration

Never Stop Exploring Image Gallery

Space exploration should inspire our nation. It should push back the scientific and technological frontier and lead to amazing discoveries. It should inspire the youth of our nation and create an ethos that embraces science and technology.  If harnessed correctly, those attributes can provide deep roots for STEM education and help ensure the future economic well-being of our country. Let’s Never Stop Exploring.

David A. Kring
August 2009

 


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Tycho

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On 10 June 2011 the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft slewed 65° to the west, allowing the LROC Narrow Angle Cameras to capture this spectacular sunrise view of the mountainous peaks in the center of the Tycho impact crater. Geologists are anxious to hike through this area to collect samples dredged up from the lunar interior by the impact event and to collect samples of impact melt that will test our models of the asteroid and comet bombardment of the Earth-Moon system. Tycho Crater is ~83 km in diameter and surrounded by bright white rays of ejected rock that are visible from your own backyard. The summit of the ~15 kilometer-wide central peak rises ~2 kilometers above the crater floor, which is ~4.7 kilometers below the crater rim, producing a spectacular landscape that rivals (if not surpasses) many of the natural geologic wonders of Earth. The crater is several times deeper than the Grand Canyon and its central peak is a significantly higher prominence than Pikes Peak in the Rocky Mountains.

Detail from LROC NAC image M162350671L,R
Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera


Serenitatis

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Artistic interpretation of the formation of the Serenitatis Basin on the Moon during the basin-forming epoch ~3.9 billion years ago. This basin is ~740 kilometers in diameter and was probably produced by an impacting asteroid. The surface of the Moon appears different in this scene than it does today, because a significant number of impact events continued to shape it.  Asteroids were also striking the Earth and re-shaping its primitive crust, producing over 20,000 impact craters with diameters of 20 to more than 4,000 kilometers during the basin-forming epoch. The largest impact events on Earth may have periodically vaporized the oceans, which repeatedly recondensed to form shallow seas. Asteroids hit the Earth and Moon more often than comets, so there are more of them depicted in near-Earth space. The Apollo 17 mission landed near the rim of the Serenitatis Basin and rocks produced by that impact event were returned to Earth for analyses, which is why we know when and how the basin was formed.

The science captured in this scene was developed by David A. Kring and Daniel D. Durda.
The art was produced (© 2010) by Daniel D. Durda.


Schrodinger

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Artistic interpretation of the formation of the Schrödinger impact basin on the Moon near the end of the basin-forming epoch ~3.9 billion years ago. This basin is ~320 kilometers in diameter and was probably produced by an impacting asteroid. The basin is on the lunar farside, so it is not directly visible from Earth. Schrödinger Basin also occurs within the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) Basin, which is the largest (~2,500 km diameter) and oldest basin on the Moon. Schrödinger Basin is a very attractive landing site for future missions, because the age of its impact melt samples will help define the end of the lunar impact cataclysm. The basin may also contain melted materials produced by the SPA Basin impact event, thus establishing the duration of the entire basin-forming epoch. Moreover, volcanic rocks that erupted onto the floor of Schrödinger Basin will provide a unique view of the Moon's interior.

The science captured in this scene was developed by David A. Kring and Daniel D. Durda.
The art was produced (© 2011) by Daniel D. Durda (Fellow, IAAA).


Sample 76215

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Sample 76215 is an impact melt breccia collected at Station 6 during the Apollo 17 mission to the Moon. This is a microscopic view of the sample taken under polarized light. The field of view is 0.7 millimeters wide. Samples like this one are being used to determine the magnitude and duration of the impact bombardment that affected the Earth-Moon system about 4 billion years ago. The 76215 impact melt sample was produced by a type of asteroid not currently represented in our meteorite collections. That asteroid struck the Moon 3.89 billion years ago and may be responsible for the immense (740 kilometer diameter) Serenitatis impact basin adjacent to the Apollo 17 landing site.

LPI Apollo Sample Atlas
LPI Apollo Thin-Section Atlas
JSC Lunar Sample Compendium


Shackleton crater

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In this view of the lunar south pole, the 20 kilometer wide and 4 kilometer deep Shackleton impact crater lies in the foreground.  It dwarfs Meteor Crater-size impact sites that pepper the surrounding terrain. Along the horizon, rising from the lunar surface beneath the Earth, a 5 kilometer high mountain called Malapert Massif towers above the landscape along the rim of the solar system’s largest impact crater, the 2,500 kilometer diameter South Pole-Aitken Basin. This part of the Moon is known for being both dark and light. The bottoms of some of the craters may never see sunlight, while some of the ridges, like that to the left of Shackleton Crater, may receive an unusual amount of sunlight.  Both of those elements intrigue scientists and the engineers who study future mission concepts. It is an enticing frontier for future exploration.

Still image cut from a sequence captured by the HDTV camera on the Kaguya spacecraft. 
©JAXA/NHK


Orion

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Sample return missions are required to adequately address the objectives of a National Resource Council report about The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon.  The best results would be obtained by a trained crew on the lunar surface. Unfortunately, we do not currently have the capability of landing crew on the surface, so efforts to provide an alternative architecture using integrated robotic and human capability are being investigated.  One plan suggests deploying a robotic asset to Schrödinger basin and having crew on the Orion spacecraft, hovering above the lunar far side at the Earth-Moon L2 position, tele-operate the rover with assistance from mission control. The robotic asset could conduct geologic reconnaissance, collect samples, and return the samples to the Orion vehicle.  Multiple missions of this type could be conducted to test and utilize Orion capabilities while other human exploration assets are being developed.

Image credit:  LPI Center for Lunar Science and Exploration.


NASA’s next generation of space vehicles

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During the 2008 Desert RATS tests at the Black Point Lava Flow in Arizona, teams of engineers, geologists, and astronauts integrated their efforts to test NASA's new Lunar Electric Rover and the operational concepts needed for a 14-day-long mission on the lunar surface.  The first Lunar Electric Rover (right) and the next generation chassis (left) are shown here at that lunar analogue mission test site.  Those mission simulations continue, with the latest (2010) test exploring the requirements for a 28-day-long mission to the Malapert Massif in the South Pole-Aitken Basin using two Lunar Electric Rovers and other mobile assets.

Photograph credit:  NASA Desert RATS


Lunar landings in our future

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A larger lander for a greater number of astronauts and longer duration missions will be needed for the next phase of exploration on the Moon and beyond.  This artistic rendering of the Altair lunar lander illustrates a vehicle that will be able to take four astronauts to the surface of the Moon for long-duration exploration.  Mission scenarios ranging from one week to four weeks are being designed.  Crew activity will take advantage of new mobility assets (like the flight version of the Lunar Exploration Rover) that will allow them to survey regions more thoroughly than in the past and, thus, greatly expand the
scientific return of those missions.

NASA image JSC2007-E-113280


A step forward in lunar exploration

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Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon on July 20, 1969, while their crewmate, Michael Collins, orbited in the command module. An iconic view of those first few steps is this image of Buzz Aldrin’s bootprint. It was a fascinating beginning of our exploration of the Moon, yet a humble one. Those first few footsteps only covered about 100 meters of the Moon’s surface, leaving vast regions of the Moon unexplored. The tantalizing results of that and other Apollo missions taught us that our nearest neighbor, the Moon, is the best and most accessible place in the solar system to study planet-altering processes that have shaped our corner of the universe, including the origins of our own home planet Earth.

Detail from NASA image AS11-40-5877


Exploring the Earth and Moon

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Exploration often alters our perceptions in ways that are unforeseeable.  This photograph of the Earth captures one of those moments during the Apollo missions. Views like this taught us that the Earth is part of a planetary system and that all of us are juxtaposed on the same world.  Lunar exploration altered our view of Earth, its ecosystems, and the evolution of a habitable world.  We also learned that when we explore the Moon and elsewhere in the solar system that we do so to (i) learn more about that particular destination and (ii) also learn more about ourselves and our own planet.

Detail from NASA image AS11-44-6548


A new generation prepares to explore the Moon

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When we push exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and return to planetary surfaces, we will be using a new generation of hardware and operational protocols. To test that hardware and those operational protocols, mission simulations are being conducted at a lunar analogue site in northern Arizona. In those simulations, crew work with a mission operations center and a science operations center to learn how to maximize their productivity for future missions on the Moon and other planetary surfaces. Important tasks during those missions will be geologic exploration and the collection of samples for return to Earth.

Photograph credit: NASA Desert RATS


Sample 12005

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Sample 12005 is a volcanic basalt that was collected around the Apollo 12 Lunar Module (LM) and has, in addition to pyroxene and plagioclase, an unusually large amount of olivine.  Nearly one-third of the basalt is composed of olivine. It is one of the most magnesian-rich basalt samples collected on the Moon.  Samples like this one were produced from partial melting of the lunar mantle after the moon had differentiated into several distinct units (core, mantle, and crust).  The chemical composition of 12005 can be used to deduce the composition of the lunar mantle and test the Lunar Magma Ocean hypothesis.  This is a microscopic view of the sample taken under polarized light.  The field of view is 2.1 millimeters wide. 

JSC Lunar Sample Compendium
LPI Apollo Sample Atlas
LPI Apollo Thin-Section Atlas


Sample 70017

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Sample 70017 is a titanium-rich volcanic basalt collected during the Apollo 17 mission on the Moon.  The magma that produced this sample came from the lunar mantle, so the rock contains clues about the evolution of the lunar interior.  This sample is also interesting because it contains an iron- and titanium-rich mineral called ilmenite, which are the black-colored crystals in the field of view.  Potentially, rocks like this one can be mined for titanium and used to create new or replacement metal parts for buildings or machinery on the lunar surface. This is a microscopic view of the sample taken under polarized light.  The field of view is 2.1 millimeters wide. 

JSC Lunar Sample Compendium
LPI Apollo Sample Atlas
LPI Apollo Thin-Section Atlas


Schrodinger basin

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The Moon's Schrödinger basin is the best preserved impact basin of its size. Its broad flat floor offers several safe landing sites and the geology within the basin is extraordinary. The two highest science priorities and over half of the scientific objectives outlined by the National Research Council report The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon can be addressed with field studies and samples collected in Schrödinger basin. The field of view also contains Shackleton crater at the lunar south pole (bottom) and Amundsen crater (with central peak in lower left), which are prime candidates for measuring the physical properties of polar volatiles. All of these structures lie within the immense South Pole-Aitken (SPA) basin on the lunar far side, which is a vast region of unexplored territory that is filled with future discoveries.

Illustration credit: LPI (This illustration co-registers and blends orthographic projections of an LROC WAC mosaic and LOLA-derived topography.)
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera
Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter


NASA Lunar Electric Rover

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The NASA Lunar Electric Rover (LER) is a long-range, long-duration exploration vehicle for astronauts exploring the lunar surface.  The first prototype design includes a pressurized cabin, a rapid ingress/egress system to enhance crew productivity, and has proven to be an excellent platform for conducting science and exploration activities.  The LER has been tested several times in rigorous field conditions, including a simulation of a 28-day-long mission on the surface of the Moon.  A second generation vehicle, or Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV), has also been built for missions to the Moon (left) and near-Earth asteroids (right) and is currently being tested in a configuration suitable for missions to the surfaces of near- Earth asteroids.

Lunar Electric Rover
Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle

Credit:  NASA\Artist’s concept


Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle

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The Lunar Electric Rover (LER) was one of the first pieces of hardware built for a new generation of explorers.  It has been repeatedly tested in remote field conditions that simulate the lunar surface.  Attributes of the LER have been incorporated into a new concept called a Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle (MMSEV) that is designed for both lunar surface activities and, as shown here, near-Earth asteroid missions.  In NASA’s 2011 Desert Research and Technology Studies program, the concept of a MMSEV in the vicinity of a near-Earth asteroid was tested with crew in an LER that was deployed in northern Arizona and managed from Mission Control in Houston, TX.

Credit:  NASA\Artist’s concept

Lunar Electric Rover
Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle


Near-Earth Objects

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CLSE Principal Investigator Dr. David A. Kring, his students, and colleagues have been studying Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) for over two decades, extracting stories from them about the formation of our solar system and the collisional impacts of asteroids and comets with planets like the Earth, Moon, and Mars.  They have also studied the environmental consequences of NEO impacts on Earth, including those produced with the famous Meteor Crater in Arizona a few thousand years ago and the immense Chicxulub Crater in Mexico that they linked to the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The team has often wondered what it will be like to study an NEO before it hits Earth. In that type of mission, astronauts will float above the low-gravity asteroid and then reach out to touch its surface, leaving a handprint. That handprint is likely to be as iconic as the footprints astronauts left on the lunar surface. An artist’s rendering of that event is captured here with a spacecraft image of Eros, which is the first near-Earth asteroid discovered.

Credit:   Pat Rawlings (handprint in Eros regolith) for the CLSE and NASA NEAR mission mosaic PIA02923 of Eros.


Kepler crater

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