NASA has released a series of photos of Apollo moon-landing sites that are dramatically improved over previous photos taken as recently as 2009.
The photos were taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which was launched on June 18, 2009 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, along with the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS).
The landing sites in the new photos included those of the second manned moon landing, Apollo 12 of November 1969; the third, Apollo 14 of January 1971 (all Tom Hanks fans know what happed to Apollo 13); and the final visit of man to the moon, Apollo 17 of December 1972 – nearly 39 years ago.
The photos made in 2009 were also captured by the LRO, but at its standard altitude of 50 kilometers (31 miles). For the new series, its elliptical orbit was adjusted so that it dipped as low as 21 kilometers (13 miles).
The landing site of the Apollo 17 mission, as photographed in 2009
"Without changing the average altitude, we made the orbit more elliptical, so the lowest part of the orbit is on the sunlit side of the Moon," said deputy LRO project scientist John Keller in a NASA release. "This put LRO in a perfect position to take these new pictures of the surface."
The new images clearly show the lunar landing modules for each mission, plus the instrument cluster known as the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), variations of which came along on each mission.
The landing site of the Apollo 12 mission, as photographed in 2009
Also clearly visible in the new images are the astronauts tracks in the lunar dust. The Apollo 17 images also show tracks of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) – more affectionately known as the "moon buggy", along with its final resting place.
One striking detail in the Apollo 12 image is a pair of lines radiating out from the ALSEP at a right angle. These are cables leading to two of the ALSEP's instruments, brightly lit by the reflection of the sun.
Another detail in the Apollo 12 image: astronauts' footprints leading to the unmanned Surveyor 3 spacecraft, which had landed on the moon in April of 1967, and which the Apollo 12 astronauts photographed during their visit.