40 years ago this week, the Apollo 14 crew landed on the Moon. Here’s the latest look at their landing site, just downloaded from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Narrow Angle Cameras. Even though LRO has imaged this area before, this seems to be a much better, crisper view of the lander and the ALSEP experiment package left of the Moon by Al Shepard and Edgar Mitchell. 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. Below are a couple of close-up looks at the image.
The LROC folks say that every time LRO passes overhead the different landing sites, the Sun is at a different position so each image gives a different perspective. Additionally, since the position of the lunar modules and other pieces of hardware are very accurately known, the LROC team can check the accuracy of the mission-provided ephemeris.
Thanks to UT reader Carlos Ayala who sent in this this sharpened and enhanced “closer” close-up. He captured the original image on the LRO site, and “using CS3 I enlarged the area and applied a Bicubic smoothing filter to the re-sampled image. The resulting image is set to 1200 x 1200 pixels,” he wrote us. Click on the image for a larger version.
Forty years ago today, the Apollo 14 crew launched on their Saturn V rocket, the 6th human flight to the Moon and the third that landed. Following the heart-stopping problems of Apollo 13, almost ten months elapsed before Commander Alan Shepard (the first American in space), Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa, and Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell set off on January 31, 1971. They reached the Moon on February 5, and Shepard and Mitchell walked the Fra Mauro highlands, originally been the target of the aborted Apollo 13 mission. The two astronauts had to scrap a planned rock-collecting trip to the 1,000 foot wide Cone Crater when they became disoriented and almost got lost. Interestingly, recent images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter revealed they were only a little over 30 yards from the crater’s rim when they gave up the search. But they did have many successes as well.
Also on this date 50 years ago was the flight that made Alan Shepard’s suborbital Mercury flight possible: the Mercury-Redstone 2 (MR-2) mission carrying Ham, a four-year-old male chimpanzee. The suborbital flight lasted a total of 16 minutes and 39 seconds, and carried the spacecraft 422 nautical miles from the launch site at Cape Canaveral, FL, reaching a maximum altitude of 157 statute miles. The flight reached all its objectives, paving the way for human flights.
Speaking of lunar impacts: While we await the science data from the LCROSS mission impact earlier this morning, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team has released this image of another impact on the Moon 38 years ago . The crater in the center of this image was formed by Apollo 14’s Saturn IVB booster. The booster was intentionally impacted into the lunar surface on Feb. 4, 1971. The impact caused a minor “moonquake” that scientists used to learn about the moon’s interior structure. Seismometers placed on the surface by the Apollo 12 astronauts returned data on the tremor.
The crater is about 35 meters (115 feet). The interior of the crater has bright mounds, and a bright ejecta blanket surrounds the exterior of the crater. Bright rays are observed to extend across the surface for more than 1.5 km (0.9 miles) from the impact. This LROC image was taken when the sun was relatively high in the sky, bringing out subtle differences in reflectivity or brightness. This site has been observed before, and scientists noted the unusual occurrence of dark and bright rays when the Apollo 16 spacecraft observed the site.
Comparing the Apollo booster impact to LCROSS, the Apollo impact velocity was at 9,144 kph (5,682 mph.) The booster component weighed 14,000 kg (30,835 lbs) at the time of impact, and the impact energy was equivalent to just over 10 tons of TNT. A seismometer placed in 1969 by Apollo 12 astronauts recorded the vibrations, which lasted for about three hours. The LCROSS impactor (the upper stage of a Centaur rocket) is much smaller than the S-IVB and thus will make a smaller crater. The Centaur weighs about 2000 kg (4,409 lbs) and will hit with a velocity of about 9,000 kph (5,592 mph.)
So anyone worried about the LCROSS impact; don’t worry, the Moon has seen much worse from earlier impacts — both intentional by humans and the unintentional consequences of being in a space-dust and -debris filled region of space.