Spacecraft illustration.

Artist's concept of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter at the Moon.

Launch Date June 18, 2009 | 21:32 UT
Launch Site Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA
Destination Earth’s Moon
Type Orbiter
Status Extended Mission in Progress
Nation United States
Alternate Names LRO, 2009-031A

Goals

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) was sent to the Moon to make high-resolution maps of the composition of the lunar surface and seek out potential sources of water-ice that may exist in the bottom of dark polar craters. The spacecraft is seeking potential landing sites and resources for future human exploration of the Moon. LRO was launched with theLCROSS lunar impact mission.

Accomplishments

One of the mission's first surprising discoveries was the super-cold temperatures in the permanently shadowed craters of the Moon's south polar region. The temperatures -- -397 degrees Fahrenheit (-238 degrees Celsius) -- are among the coldest surface temperatures measured in the solar system, colder even than Pluto.

The spacecraft also made new observations of the Apollo landing sites; found indications that permanently shadowed and nearby regions may harbor water and hydrogen; provided detailed information about lunar terrain; and discovered the first evidence of thrust faults that indicate the Moon has recently contracted and may still be shrinking.

LRO also took high resolution pictures of the Lunokhod 1 rover that had been lost for almost 40 years. Accurate position data enabled researchers on Earth to bounce laser signals off the rover's retroreflector for the first time ever. It now provides important new information about the position and motion of the Moon.

Key Dates

Jun. 18, 2009: Launch

Jun. 23, 2009: Arrival in Lunar Orbit

Resources

National Space Science Data Center: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

Related News