NASA preps mission to create 3D maps of lunar surface

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Washington, D.C. - NASA is in the final stages to of getting a new mission off the ground to come up with much more detailed maps of the moon’s surface, to find safe landing sites for human explorers and discover potential resources.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS are scheduled to launch aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 17. The spacecraft are expected to deliver more detailed data of the moon than has ever been retrieved before, setting the stage for future manned missions to the moon.

The LRO is prepared to help identify safe landing sites for future human explorers, locate potential resources, characterize the radiation environment and test new technology while the LCROSS will seek a “definitive answer about the presence of water ice at the lunar poles,” NASA said. According to a press release, “LCROSS will use the spent second stage Atlas Centaur rocket in an unprecedented way that will culminate with two spectacular impacts on the moon's surface.”

"These two missions will provide exciting new information about the moon, our nearest neighbor," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator of NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington, in a prepared statement. "Imaging will show dramatic landscapes and areas of interest down to one-meter resolution. The data also will provide information about potential new uses of the moon."

NASA said that the seven instruments carried by the LRO instruments are designed to create high-resolution 3D and ultraviolet maps of the lunar surface. The hope is that orbiter's instruments will help explain how the lunar radiation environment may affect humans and measure radiation absorption with a plastic that is similar to human tissue.

According to the organization, LRO's instruments also will allow scientists “to explore the moon's deepest craters, look beneath its surface for clues to the location of water ice, and identify and explore both permanently lit and permanently shadowed regions. High resolution imagery from its camera will help identify landing sites and characterize the moon's topography and composition. A miniaturized radar will image the poles and test the system's communications capabilities.”

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