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.)
Editor’s note:We posted this yesterday only to find that the original video we used had been pulled. Now, we’ve reposted the article with a new and improved version of the video, thanks to Spacecraft Films.
To the moon! The goal people most remember from the Apollo program was setting foot on the surface of our closest neighbor. To get there required a heck of a lot of firepower, bundled in the Saturn V rocket. The video above gives you the unique treat of watching each rocket launch at the same time.
Some notes on the rockets you see:
Apollos 4 and 6 were uncrewed test flights.
Apollo 9 was an Earth-orbit flight to (principally) test the lunar module.
Apollo 8 and 10 were both flights around the moon (with no lunar landing).
Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 safely made it to the moon’s surface and back.
Skylab’s launch was also uncrewed; the Saturn V was used in this case to send a space station into Earth’s orbit that was used by three crews in the 1970s.
You don’t see Apollo 7 pictured here because it did not use the Saturn V rocket; it instead used the Saturn IB. It was an Earth-orbiting flight and the first successful manned one of the Apollo program. (Apollo 1 was the first scheduled crew, but the three men died in a launch pad fire.)
Comparison of China’s Chang’e-3 unmanned lunar lander of 2013 vs. NASA’s Apollo manned lunar landing spacecraft of the 1960’s and 1970’s
Is China’s Chang’e-3 unmanned lunar lander the opening salvo in an ambitious plan by China to land people on the Moon a decade or so hence?
Will China land humans on the Moon before America returns?
It would seem so based on a new report in the People’s Daily- the official paper of the Communist Party of China – as well as the express science goals following on the heels of the enormous breakthrough for Chinese technology demonstrated by the history making Chang’e-3 Mission.
The People’s Daily reports that “Chinese aerospace researchers are working on setting up a lunar base,” based on a recent speech by Zhang Yuhua, deputy general director and deputy general designer of the Chang’e-3 probe system.
No humans have set foot on the moon’s surface since the last US lunar landing mission when Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison ‘Jack’ Schmitt departed 41 years ago on Dec. 14, 1972.
For context, the landing gear span of Chang’e-3 is approximately 4.7 meters vs. 9.07 meters for NASA’s Apollo Lunar Module (LM).
Right now China is actively at work on the critical technology required to conduct a manned landing on the Moon, perhaps by the mid-2020’s or later, and scoping out what it would accomplish.
“In addition to manned lunar landing technology, we are also working on the construction of a lunar base, which will be used for new energy development and living space expansion,” said Zhang at a speech at the Shanghai Science Communication Forum. Her speech dealt with what’s next in China’s lunar exploration program.
China’s Yutu lunar rover, deployed by the Chang’e-3 lander, is equipped with a suite of science instruments and a ground penetrating radar aimed at surveying the moon’s geological structure and composition to locate the moon’s natural resources for use by potential future Chinese astronauts.
But the Chinese government hasn’t yet made a firm final decision on sending people to the Moon’s surface.
“The manned lunar landing has not yet secured approval from the national level authorities, but the research and development work is going on,” said Zhang.
Meanwhile the US has absolutely no active plans for a manned lunar landing any time soon.
President Obama cancelled NASA’s manned Constellation “Return to the Moon” program shortly after he assumed office.
And during the 2012 US Presidential campaign, the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney famously declared “You’re fired” to anyone who would propose a US manned lunar base.
All that remains of Constellation is the Orion crew module – which was expressly designed to send US astronauts to the Moon and other deep space destinations such as Asteroids and Mars.
NASA hopes to launch a manned Orion capsule atop the new SLS booster on a flight to circle the moon as part of its first crewed mission around 2021 – depending on the budget.
The first Orion capsule will launch on an unmanned Earth orbiting test flight dubbed EFT-1 in mid-September 2014.
However, given the near total lack of reaction from the US political establishment to China’s extremely impressive Chang’e-3 feat and the continuing slashes to NASA’s budget, the outlook for a change in official US Moon policy is certainly not promising.
China and its political leadership – in stark contrast – are clearly thinking long term and has some very practical goals for the proposed lunar base.
“After the future establishment of the lunar base, mankind will conduct energy reconnaissance on the moon, set up industrial and agricultural production bases, make use of the vacuum environment to produce medicines,” Zhang explained according to the People’s Daily.
“I believe that in 100 years, humans will actually be able to live on another planet,” said Zhang.
China also seems interested in international cooperation based on another recent story in the People Daily.
“We are willing to cooperate with all the countries in the world, including the United States and developing countries,” said Xu Dazhe, the new chief of China’s space industry and newly promoted to head the China National Space Administration.
Xu made his remarks at the International Space Exploration Forum held at the US State Department.
However, since 2011, NASA has been banned by official US law from cooperating with China on space projects.
China is wisely taking a step by step approach in its Lunar Exploration programs leading up to the potential manned lunar landing.
With China’s lunar landing architecture now proven by the outstanding success of Chang’e-3, a production line can and has already been set up that will include upgrades potentially leading to the manned mission.
The already approved Chang’e-5 lunar sample return mission is due to liftoff in 2017 and retrieve up to 2 kilograms of pristine rocks and soil from the Moon.
After the completion of the Chang’e-5 mission, the lunar exploration program and the manned space program will be combined to realize a manned lunar landing, Zhang explained according to the People’s Daily.
Meanwhile China is forging ahead with their manned space program. And no one should doubt their resolve.
In 2013 they launched a three person crew to China’s Tiangong-1 space station, reaping valuable technological experience pertinent to manned spaceflight including lunar missions.
By contrast, the US has been forced to rely 100% on the Russian’s to launch American astronauts to the ISS since the forced shutdown of NASA’s space shuttle orbiters in 2011.
China is only the 3rd country in the world to successfully soft land a spacecraft on Earth’s nearest neighbor after the United States and the Soviet Union.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Chang’e-3, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars and more news.
China’s 1st Moon rover ‘Yutu’ embarks on thrilling adventure marking humanity’s first lunar surface visit in nearly four decades. Yutu portrait taken by the Chang’e-3 lander. Credit: CNSA/CCTV
See below Yutu’s departing portrait of Chang’e-3 lander emblazoned with Chinese national flag Story updated[/caption]
China’s now famous ‘Yutu’ moon rover has set sail for what promises to be breathtaking new adventures on Earth’s nearest neighbor, after completing a final joint portrait session with the Chang’e-3 lander that safely deposited her on the lunar surface only a week ago.
Yutu’s upcoming journey marks humanity’s first lunar surface visit in nearly four decades since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 sample return vehicle visited. America’s last lunar landing mission with the Apollo 17 astronauts departed 41 years ago on Dec. 14, 1972.
The Chang’e-3 mothership and Yutu rover have resumed full operations after awakening from a sort of self induced slumber following commands from Mission Control back in Beijing.
The lander and rover finished up their 5th and final dual picture taking session – in living lunar color – on Sunday, Dec. 22, according to CCTV, China’s state run broadcast network.
“Ten pictures have been taken at five spots so far, and all of them are better than we expected,” said Wu Weiren, chief designer of the China Lunar Probe Program, to CCTV.
See the newly released portraits from photo session 5 – above and below.
After arriving on the moon, Yutu and the lander took an initial pair of portraits of one another. Read my earlier report – here.
Yutu was then directed to travel in a semicircular path around the lander and to the south, making tracks several centimeters deep into the loose lunar regolith.
But within two days of the historic Dec. 14 touchdown, the two spacecraft took a four-day break that lasted from Dec. 16 to Dec. 20, during which China’s space engineers shut down their subsystems, according to China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND).
The vehicles took a ‘nap” to deal with direct solar radiation that significantly raised their temperatures. Yutu’s sunny side exceeded 100 degrees centigrade while the shaded side was simultaneously below zero, reported SASTIND.
“The break had been planned to last until Dec. 23, but the scientists decided to restart Yutu now for more research time, based on the recent observations and telemetry parameters,” said Pei Zhaoyu, spokesman for the Chinese lunar program, according to China’s Xinhua state news agency.
Both robots then snapped additional photos of one another during the traverse from each of five specific and preplanned locations.
See accompanying traverse map below – written in Chinese.
These images taken by Yutu were designed to show the 1200 kg Chang’e-3 lander from the front, side and back sides as it drove around the right side – for better illumination – at a distance of about 10 meters.
The final image of the Chang’e-3 lander taken by Yutu also captured China’s national flag emblazoned on the lander for the first time, since this was the first time it was in view of the rover’s camera eyes.
See the accompanying traverse graphic here – written in Chinese.
Having fulfilled the last of their joint tasks, the two spacecraft can therefore each begin their own lunar exploration missions, working independently of one another exactly as planned from the outset of China’s inaugural moon landing feat.
Yutu will depart the Chang’e-3 landing zone forever and begin its own lunar trek that’s expected to last at least 3 months – and perhaps longer if it’s delicate electronic components survive the moon’s utterly harsh and unforgiving space environment.
“They will begin to conduct scientific explorations of the geography and geomorphology of the landing spot and nearby areas, and materials like minerals and elements there. We will also explore areas 30 meters and 100 meters beneath the lunar soil. The exploration will continue longer than we planned, because all the instruments and equipments are working very well,” noted Wu Weiren.
The robotic pair of spacecraft safely soft landed on the Moon on Dec. 14 at Mare Imbrium, nearby the Bay of Rainbows, or Sinus Iridum region.
The Chang’e-3 mothership captured a panoramic view of the stark lunar terrain surrounding the spacecraft after ‘Yutu’ drove some 9 meters away from the lander.
See the eerie panoramic view of the landing site showing Yutu’s first moments on the alien lunar surface in my prior story – here.
See the dramatic video with an astronauts eye view of the lunar descent and touchdown in my prior story – here.
The 120 kg Yutu rover is almost the size of a golf cart. It measures about 1.5 m x 1 m on its sides and stands about 1.5 m (nearly 5 feet) tall – virtually human height.
Yutu, which translates as ‘Jade Rabbit’ will use its suite of four science instruments to survey the moon’s geological structure and composition to locate the moon’s natural resources for use by potential future Chinese astronauts, perhaps a decade from now.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Chang’e-3, LADEE, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rover and more news.
Ken Kremer Landing site of Chinese lunar probe Chang’e-3 on Dec. 14, 2013. [/caption]
Now more than 9 years and counting into her planned mere 90 day mission to Mars, NASA’s legendary Opportunity rover has smashed past another space milestone and established a new distance driving record for an American vehicle on another world this week.
On Thursday, May 16, the long-lived Opportunity drove another 263 feet (80 meters) on Mars – bringing her total odometry since landing on 24 January 2004 to 22.220 miles (35.760 kilometers) – and broke through the 40 year old driving record set back in December 1972 by Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt.
See below our complete map of the 9 Year Journey of Opportunity on Mars.
Cernan and Schmitt visited Earth’s moon on America’s final lunar landing mission and drove their mission’s Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV-3) 22.210 miles (35.744 kilometers) over the course of three days on the moon’s surface at Taurus-Littrow.
Cernan was ecstatic at the prospect of the Apollo 17 record finally being surpassed.
“The record we established with a roving vehicle was made to be broken, and I’m excited and proud to be able to pass the torch to Opportunity, ” said Cernan to team member Jim Rice of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md, in a NASA statement.
And Opportunity still has plenty of juice left!
So, although there are no guarantees, one can reasonably expect the phenomenal Opportunity robot to easily eclipse the ‘Solar System World Record’ for driving distance on another world that is currently held by the Soviet Union’s remote-controlled Lunokhod 2 rover. See detailed graphic below.
In 1973, Lunokhod 2 traveled 23 miles (37 kilometers) on the surface of Earth’s nearest neighbor.
Why could Opportunity continue farther into record setting territory ?
Because Opportunity’s handlers back on Earth have dispatched the Martian robot on an epic trek to continue blazing a path forward around the eroded rim of the huge crater named ‘Endeavour’ – where she has been conducting ground breaking science since arriving at the “Cape York” rim segment in mid 2011.
Opportunity has just now set sail for her next crater rim destination named “Solander Point”, an area about 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers) away – due south from “Cape York.”
Endeavour Crater is 14 miles (22 km) wide, featuring terrain with older rocks than previously inspected and unlike anything studied before. It’s a place no one ever dared dream of reaching prior to Opportunity’s launch in the summer of 2003 and landing on the Meridiani Planum region in 2004.
Opportunity will blast through the world record milestone held by the Lunokhod 2 rover somewhere along the path to “Solander Point.”
Thereafter Opportunity will rack up ever more miles as the rover continues driving further south to a spot called “Cape Tribulation”, that is believed to hold caches of clay minerals that formed eons ego when liquid water flowed across this region of the Red Planet.
It’s a miracle that Opportunity has lasted so far beyond her design lifetime – 37 times longer than the 3 month “warranty.”
“Regarding achieving nine years, I never thought we’d achieve nine months!” Principal Investigator Prof. Steve Squyres of Cornell University told me recently on the occasion of the rovers 9th anniversary on Mars in January 2013.
“Our next destination will be Solander Point,” said Squyres.
Opportunity was joined on Mars by her younger sister Curiosity, currently exploring the crater floor inside Gale Crater since landing on Aug. 6, 2012.
Curiosity is likewise embarked on a epic trek – towards 3 mile high (5.5 km) Mount Sharp some 6 miles away.
Both rovers Opportunity & Curiosity have discovered phyllosilicates, hydrated calcium sulfate mineral veins and vast evidence for flowing liquid water on Mars. All this data enhances the prospects that Mars could have once supported microbial life forms.
The Quest for Life beyond Earth continues ably with NASA’s Martian sister rovers.
And don’t forget to “Send Your Name to Mars” aboard NASA’s MAVEN orbiter- details here. Deadline: July 1, 2013
40 years ago on December 19, 1972, Apollo 17 splashed down on Earth, marking the end of the manned moon missions. The astronauts came back with a treasure trove of rocks collected in 22 hours of extra-vehicular activity on the lunar surface, including “orange” soil that ended up coming from an ancient volcano.
Twitter wasn’t around back then, but anyone tuning into several Twitter accounts recently week would have a chance to experience what it could it have been like. Using mission transcripts and historical accounts of Apollo 17, these folks took it upon themselves to tweet the Apollo 17 mission, moment by moment, as “live” as possible.
Universe Today caught up with two of the tweeters. This is an edited version of what they said about the experience.
Liz Suckow (@LizMSuckow), a NASA contract archivist who tweeted on her own time
Researching a mission is divided into two parts, prelaunch and flight. For prelaunch, I use whatever official NASA documents, histories, and relevant astronaut and mission controller autobiographies I can find.
From what I’ve seen on the missions I’ve tweeted, until Apollo, no prelaunch conversation was transcribed at all. For Apollo, the last hour or so before liftoff is on the mission transcript. So, I can schedule those tweets. But, prelaunch activities for the astronauts start as long as 10 hours before liftoff. So, I use whatever resources I can to find references to the time of important events, and the rest of the prelaunch scheduling is educated guesswork. Flight is easy.
I have been trying to tweet as if I was the Johnson Space Center public affairs officer during the particular mission. When I joined Twitter in November of 2010 and was looking for accounts to follow, I came across a dead feed from JSC, I can’t remember the account name, that tweeted what had happened during a shuttle mission in real time.
Apollo 17, the only lunar mission to launch at night. Image Credit: NASA/courtesy of nasaimages.org
I thought, “Wow, that’s cool! Somebody ought to do that for the historical missions.” The celebration of the 40th anniversary of Apollo was still a big deal at NASA at the time, and the next mission up was Apollo 14. I figured someone else at NASA would have the same idea, but it was never mentioned. So, I figured I would do it on my personal account, just to see if it could be done and if anybody else (even if it was only a few people) liked the idea.
I am definitely going to be doing another one. I think the next anniversary is either Gordon Cooper‘s Mercury flight in May 2013, or the first Skylab missions. Not quite sure how I want to handle Skylab yet, may throw that one open to followers for ideas. Why do I do it? I do it because it is fun. Sometimes, I get so mentally involved the mission I get excited for what’s coming next as I am scheduling the tweets (even though I know full well what’s going to happen).
Buck Calabro (@Apollo17History), space fan who live-Tweeted along with Thomas Rubatscher
I’m live tweeting because I’m interested in Apollo. It’s a life-long interest. I myself live Tweet mostly by actually typing the tweet into HootSuite.com or Twitter.com. I have collaborated with Thomas by creating a spreadsheet of candidate tweets that he can upload into HootSuite’s bulk uploader for time-delayed tweeting.
My tweets mostly center around the command module pilot, Ron Evans. He spent three days all by himself in the CM, doing photography, mapping and other experiments. Not exactly the same sort of fame that the moonwalkers got. It’s a different kind of grit. Imagine being Evans, as AMERICA goes around the limb of the moon, completely cut off from every human being in the universe. Nothing but some fans, pumps and procedure to keep you going.
I have no plans for leveraging the Tweets. I’ll probably do another one someday. It’s a lot of work. As far as resources, I prefer source material. I have copies of the original transcripts for ground-to-air communications. The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal is a treasure trove of images and transcripts for the lunar surface portion of the mission, and the Lunar and Planetary Institute has an extensive catalog of imagery by camera magazine (which can be found in the transcripts.) NASA has scanned vast quantities of Apollo-era documentation, and the experiment results are likewise mostly available in the public domain.
It was the end of an era. At 12:33 a.m. (EST) on Dec. 7, 1972 the monstrous Saturn V rocket blasted off for the final Apollo mission to the Moon. It was a stunning sight, as it was the first nighttime liftoff of the Saturn V. Aboard the Apollo 17 spacecraft were astronauts Gene Cernan, Ron Evans and Jack Schmitt.
Below are a couple of images and videos from the mission, one video is an overview of the mission, and the other is one of my favorite scenes:
Gene Cernan driving the lunar rover during the Apollo 17 mission on the Moon. Credit: NASA
Jack Schmitt with the lunar rover at the edge of Shorty Crater. Credit: NASA
The famous “Blue Marble” image of Earth taken by the Apollo 17 crew on Dec. 7, 1972. Credit: NASA
Using the dim light of distant stars reflecting off of the surface of the Moon, scientists using a spectrometer aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have found traces of the Moon’s tenuous atmosphere. But don’t expect to take off your protective spacesuit. The Moon’s atmosphere is made of helium.
“The question now becomes, does the helium originate from inside the Moon, for example, due to radioactive decay in rocks, or from an exterior source, such as the solar wind.” says Dr. Alan Stern, LAMP principal investigator and associate vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo.
Scientists designed the Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) spectrometer aboard LRO to map the lunar surface but the confirmation that helium surrounds Earth’s largest natural satellite was a bonus, Stern told Universe Today.
“LAMP was designed to simply do what we had not done in 40 years; to look closely at the surface of the Moon,” Stern said. “This really is a breakthrough, a capability discovery.”
LAMP’s findings support work done by the Lunar Atmosphere Composition Experiment, or LACE, that was left behind by Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972. LAMP is designed to examine far ultraviolet emissions in the tenuous atmosphere above the Moon’s surface.
Some elements found on the Moon, such as carbon or sodium, can be studied from Earth. Helium is not one of these, Stern says. Helium only shows very weakly in the far ultraviolet part of the spectrum. The signature is too weak to be seen from the 250,000 miles separating the Moon from Earth. Earth’s ozone layer also absorbs ultraviolet radiation making detection from ground-based detectors impossible.
And with LAMP moving over the lunar surface, we can see more than we’d see with a simple lander, Stern said.
During its mission, LACE detected argon but so far only helium has been confirmed from LAMP’s spectrograph. Although, the noble gas argon is much fainter than helium to the spectrograph, LAMP will seek this and other gases as well.
John Williams is a science writer and owner of TerraZoom, a Colorado-based web development shop specializing in web mapping and online image zooms. He also writes the award-winning blog, StarryCritters, an interactive site devoted to looking at images from NASA’s Great Observatories and other sources in a different way. A former contributing editor for Final Frontier, his work has appeared in the Planetary Society Blog, Air & Space Smithsonian, Astronomy, Earth, MX Developer’s Journal, The Kansas City Star and many other newspapers and magazines.
A wonderful travel moment of serendipity: While sitting near a convention centre in Chicago, I punched in nearby points of interest in my GPS and found something called the Cernan Earth and Space Center.
Suspecting it had something to do with Eugene Cernan, one of the last two men to walk on the moon, I drove to a small building on the Triton College campus, walked inside the front door, and was astounded at what was visible from the entrance.
An Apollo spacesuit. A helmet. A spacecraft gimbal. A diorama of lunar and Martian vehicles. Various pictures, tokens and artifacts showing Eugene Cernan’s aerospace life — all for free.
While I gaped at these artifacts, center director Bart Benjamin approached me and explained Cernan had grown up in the neighbourhood — in fact, his high school is just a few miles away, Benjamin explained. The artifacts are mostly loans from the Smithsonian (the spacesuit was briefly returned there for cleaning and restoration recently); revenues for the center come from its gift shop and laser/planetarium shows, which run several evenings a week.
I unfortunately was not able to stay for a laser show, but I did ask Benjamin for directions to Cernan’s school. Cernan went to Proviso Township High School, now known as Proviso East.
According to Cernan’s biography Last Man on the Moon, at high school he played varsity basketball, baseball and football and was courted by a couple of schools offering football scholarships.
But influenced by the Korean War, he instead applied for a Naval scholarship and did not get his first choice, receiving only partial financing to head to Purdue, as he recalls:
I didn’t want it, because I knew my entire family would have to work hard to pay for me to attend Purdue as an out-of-state student. But at Dad’s insistence, I reluctantly agreed, knowing that not only would I get a degree, but I could still get a commission in the Navy, albeit in the reserves, and maybe somehow could spin that into my dream of flying.
Cernan graduated in 1952 and he flew, all right — including walking on the Moon just 20 years later.
All pictures by Elizabeth Howell.
Elizabeth Howell (M.Sc. Space Studies ’12) is a contributing editor for SpaceRef and award-winning space freelance journalist living in Ottawa, Canada. Her work has appeared in publications such as SPACE.com, Air & Space Smithsonian, Physics Today, the Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., CTV and the Ottawa Business Journal.