When you look at the Moon, try to imagine a tiny NASA spacecraft circling it every two hours. That's hard to do, isn't it? Yet the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has been flying around the Moon since June 2009! This section describes the purpose of LRO, NASA's preparations to send a spacecraft to the Moon, and the instruments on-board LRO.
1. LRO Goals
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is a NASA spacecraft that has been circling the Moon since June 2009. LRO has three main goals.
- Its first goal is to look for safe landing sites on the Moon. Before LRO, lunar maps were poor. They mainly focused on regions where the Apollo astronauts landed. Now LRO makes more detailed maps covering the whole Moon. Unmanned spacecraft and future astronauts can use these maps to avoid landing on boulders or in craters.
- LRO's second goal is to discover useful resources on the Moon. These resources will help future astronauts live on the Moon. They will need water. They may even want to mine the Moon for useful materials. LRO uses its instruments to discover where these resources are.
- LRO's third goal is to measure radiation at the Moon. Tiny particles called cosmic rays fill outer space. They are too small to be seen by eye, but they are a hazard to astronauts' health. They can affect astronauts not only on the Moon but almost anywhere in space.
LRO's main scientific instrument to detect these cosmic rays is the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER for short). Even though its name is CRaTER, it doesn't study craters on the Moon. Instead it studies the radiation all around the Moon and in space.