The Apollo 11 landing site imaged by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's camera in 2012. Visible is the LM (lunar module), Lunar Laser Ranging RetroReflector (LRRR), its discarded cover and the Passive Seismic Experiment Package (PSEP). The image was taken from 15 miles (24 kilometers) above the surface. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
Forty-five years ago yesterday, the Sea of Tranquility saw a brief flurry of activity when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin dared to disturb the ancient lunar dust. Now the site has lain quiet, untouched, for almost half a century. Are any traces of the astronauts still visible?
The answer is yes! Look at the picture above of the site taken in 2012, two years ago. Because erosion is a very gradual process on the moon — it generally takes millions of years for meteors and the sun’s activity to weather features away — the footprints of the Apollo 11 crew have a semi-immortality. That’s also true of the other five crews that made it to the moon’s surface.
In honor of the big anniversary, here are a few of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s pictures of the landing sites of Apollo 11, Apollo 12, Apollo 14, Apollo 15, Apollo 16 and Apollo 17. (Apollo 13 was slated to land on the moon, but that was called off after an explosion in its service module.)
The Apollo 12 and Surveyor 3 landing sites in the Ocean of Storms on the moon. Visible is the descent stage of Intrepid (the lunar module) and the robotic craft Surveyor 3, which the astronauts took a sample from while they were on the surface. Also labelled are craters the astronauts visited. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
The Apollo 14 landing site at Fra Mauro, imaged by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2011. At right is the descent stage of Antares, the lunar module. At far left, beside the cart tracks and marked by an arrow, is the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University
The Apollo 15 landing site at Hadley plains, taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter from an altitude of 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) in 2012. Visible is the descent stage of Falcon (the lunar module), the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) and the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP). The site is marked by rover tracks. Credit: NASA Goddard/Arizona State University
The Apollo 16 landing site in the Descartes Highlands, taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2010. Visible is the descent stage of lunar module (LM) Orion, the “parking spot” of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) and its tracks, the Apollo Lunar Science Experiment Package (ALSEP), a radioisotope generator (RTG) and the geophone line, which is part of the mission’s Active Seismic Experiment. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University
The Apollo 17 landing site at Taurus-Littrow taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2011. Visible is the descent stage of the lunar module Challenger, the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) and its tracks, the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP) and Geophone Rock. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/ASU
By Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.