Detailed Images Show Rockier Terrain Than Anticipated
It's always wise to look before you leap... or launch. NASA has
obtained the highest resolution terrain mapping to date of the
moon's rugged south polar region, with a resolution to 20 meters
(66 feet) per pixel. The images contained a few surprises for the
space agency, that could affect a future NASA mission.
Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA
collected data on the area -- considered a candidate landing site
for a future manned moon mission -- using the Deep Space
Network’s Goldstone Solar System Radar located in
California's Mojave Desert.
The mapping data collected indicate that the region of the
moon's south pole near Shackleton Crater is much more rugged than
previously understood. The imagery generated by the data has been
incorporated into animation depicting the descent to the lunar
surface of a future human lunar lander and a flyover of Shackleton
"The south pole of the moon
certainly would be a beautiful place to explore," said Doug Cooke,
deputy associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission
Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "We now know the
south pole has peaks as high as Mt. McKinley and crater floors four
times deeper than the Grand Canyon. There are challenges that come
with such rugged terrain, and these data will be an invaluable tool
for advance planning of lunar missions."
Three times during a six-month period in 2006, scientists
targeted the moon's south polar region using Goldstone's 70-meter
(230-foot) radar dish. The antenna, three-quarters the size of a
football field, sent a 500-kilowatt-strong, 90-minute-long radar
stream 373,046 kilometers (231,800 miles) to the moon. The radar
bounced off the rough-hewn lunar terrain over an area measuring
about 644 kilometers by 402 kilometers (400 miles by 250 miles).
Signals were reflected back to two of Goldstone's 34-meter
(112-foot) antennas on Earth. The roundtrip time, from the antenna
to the moon and back, was about two-and-a-half seconds.
"I have not been to the moon, but this imagery is the next best
thing," said Scott Hensley, a scientist at JPL and lead
investigator for the study. "With these data we can see terrain
features as small as a house without even leaving the office."
Previously, the best resolution of the moon's south pole was
generated by the Clementine spacecraft, which could resolve lunar
terrain features near the south pole at one kilometer (0.6 miles)
per pixel. The new resolution generated by JPL is 50 times more
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will provide the next
generation of lunar imaging and data. The spacecraft is scheduled
to launch in late 2008. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera
will retrieve high-resolution images of the moon's surface and
lunar poles with resolutions to 1 meter (3.3 feet).
Funding for the program was provided by NASA's Exploration
Systems Mission Directorate.