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LRO Images Apollo Landing Sites (w00t!)

The Apollo 14 landing site imaged by LRO.  Credit: NASA

The Apollo 14 landing site imaged by LRO. Credit: NASA

As anticipated, NASA released images of the Apollo landing sites taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The pictures show the Apollo missions’ lunar module descent stages sitting on the moon’s surface, as long shadows from a low sun angle make the modules’ locations evident. Also visible are the tracks left where the astronauts walked repeatedly in a “high traffic zone” and perhaps by the Modularized Equipment Transporter (MET) wheelbarrow-like carrier used on Apollo 14. Wow.

As a journalist, I (most of the time) try to remain objective and calm. But there’s only one response to these images: W00T!

Apollo 11 landing site as imaged by LRO. Credit: NASA

Apollo 11 landing site as imaged by LRO. Credit: NASA

These first images were taken between July 11 and 15, and the spacecraft is not yet in its final mapping orbit. Future LROC images from these sites will have two to three times greater resolution.
Apollo 15 site by LRO. Credit: NASA

Apollo 15 site by LRO. Credit: NASA

These images are the first glimpses from LRO,” said Michael Wargo, chief lunar scientist, NASA Headquarters, Washington. “Things are only going to get better.”

The Japanese Kaguya spacecraft previously took images of some of the Apollo landing sites, but not at a high enough resolution to show any of the details of the lander or any other details. But here on these images, the hardware is visible. “It’s great to see the hardware on the surface, waiting for us to return,” said Mark Robinson, principal investigator for LRO.

Robinson said the LROC team anxiously awaited each image. “We were very interested in getting our first peek at the lunar module descent stages just for the thrill — and to see how well the cameras had come into focus. Indeed, the images are fantastic and so is the focus.”

Apollo 16 by LRO. Credit: NASA

Apollo 16 by LRO. Credit: NASA

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, or LROC, was able to image five of the six Apollo sites, with the remaining Apollo 12 site expected to be photographed in the coming weeks.

The spacecraft’s current elliptical orbit resulted in image resolutions that were slightly different for each site but were all around four feet per pixel. Because the deck of the descent stage is about 12 feet in diameter, the Apollo relics themselves fill an area of about nine pixels. However, because the sun was low to the horizon when the images were made, even subtle variations in topography create long shadows. Standing slightly more than ten feet above the surface, each Apollo descent stage creates a distinct shadow that fills roughly 20 pixels.

Apollo 17 LRO. Credit: NASA

Apollo 17 LRO. Credit: NASA

The image of the Apollo 14 landing site had a particularly desirable lighting condition that allowed visibility of additional details. The Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package, a set of scientific instruments placed by the astronauts at the landing site, is discernable, as are the faint trails between the module and instrument package left by the astronauts’ footprints.
Zoomed in Apollo 14 image by LRO. Credit: NASA

Zoomed in Apollo 14 image by LRO. Credit: NASA

Source: NASA


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • DJ July 18, 2009, 12:14 PM

    Thanks Ivan3man,

    The article from Dr. Phil Plait answered the very question that I was asking and that I keep hearing from time to time.

  • Torbjorn Larsson OM July 18, 2009, 3:53 PM

    @ DJ:

    “as Torbjorn pointed out, but missed the essential question”

    I covered both your “LRO is NASA” in my first comment and “enough resolution” (as opposed to focus depth) in my second. (Even if I bowed out of referencing the later optical measure because I was busy at the time. You see, I can see how to calculate the former at the top of my head, but for the latter I need to do some studying.)

    What I didn’t pound on was that it’s old hat as Nancy did, which I’m grateful for.

  • finlandia July 19, 2009, 1:53 AM

    I’m no conspiracy nut, but NASA doesn’t do itself any favours:


  • bryanack July 19, 2009, 4:57 AM

    I don’t understand why LRO photos from Apollo 14 site landing doesn’t match with the ones from Google Moon:


    Any clue ??


  • jayem4646 July 19, 2009, 6:02 AM

    @ bryanack
    I don’t understand..they do look the same. Perhaps, it’s that the high rez LRO shots are that much better.

    @Nancy…aka DJ’s telescope inquiry.

    Lighten up! From the way I read DJ’s inquiry, he was just asking why telescopes were’nt able to see land site features. That’s all.

    And please, using terms like “End of Discussion” at the end of you reply to DJ is a bit tongue-in-cheek. I’m assuming from this comment that you were taking DJ’s inquiry as being some kind of conspiricist, which he clearly said he is not.


  • bryanack July 19, 2009, 7:02 AM


    Yes you’re right, i didnt zoom enough, and the sun was from the other side, thanks 😉

  • Andy F July 19, 2009, 10:44 AM

    What has gone wrong with science education:


    To summarise, 25% of Britons ‘believe’ moon landings a hoax

    11 people of a sample of 1009, thought the first man on moon was Buzz Lightyear.

    Makes you proud to be British…

  • Astrofiend July 19, 2009, 4:45 PM

    People just like to think that they’re ‘in’ on a big mystery. When they can’t fathom the mysteries of science (which takes a little effort), they turn to conspiracy theories, whacked-out cults and whatnot. There will always be deniers, unless NASA personally offers to fly every citizen of Earth to the landing sites just to verify their existence. You’ve just gotta let em go.

    Amazing pics by the way.

  • ND July 20, 2009, 12:55 PM


    This site might be of interest to conspiracy lovers but more so to those with just plain genuine questions. The ones in the former group will not believe it anyway.

    I love the one where people claim that we didn’t have the technology or the understanding of physics in the 60’s to go to the moon.

    Astrofiend. And always a one way ticket. No return necessary :)

  • Grumpy Old Bob July 27, 2009, 11:56 AM

    rogueweapon – i checked out some of the stuff by Richard Ho(a)gland and now I’m really confused. It seems that when Apollo 11 didn’t go to the moon ( the photos are obviously faked and the whole thing was staged in Nevada – everybody knows that ), NASA then had to destroy the evidence because they didn’t want us to know about what they saw when they didn’t go to the moon. I suggest everybody should rush to:- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWkGTJEK0Mc&NR=1 – before NASA and their Nazi henchmen infiltrate YouTube and destroy the video. The quality of the film is amazing, and the ( sadly very brief ) images of the astronauts moving under normal Earth gravity should convince everyone that the whole thing was faked and Apollo 11 never left the ground. That proves that NASA doesn’t want us to know what Armstrong and Aldrin saw up there. Forget the waving flag, this is REAL evidence that we did / did not ( delete as appropriate ) go to the moon. I hope this finally clarifies the whole Moon Hoax question, so we can now concentrate on convincing those poor, ignorant Round Earthers of the fact that the Earth really is flat.

  • A May 20, 2011, 2:17 PM

    How can images supplied by the very people being accused of staging the entire moon landing be accepted as proof of the disputed event taking place?…!