Space & Planetary Science: June 2009 Archives

Reader note: LCROSS was recorded in the Santa Cruz Mountains in CA last night with an amateur telescope. The animated gif was just posted on their website, or a direct link to the recording is found here The ephemeris was found using JPL's Horizons web server, available to the public at

The lost NASA tapes: Restoring lunar images after 40 years in the vault, Computerworld

Keith's note: There are three projects outlined in this story - Lunar Orbiter, Apollo (NASA), and Apollo (someone else):

"The most visible of the archeologists is arguably Dennis Wingo, head of Skycorp Inc., a small aerospace engineering firm in Huntsville, Ala. He's the driving force behind the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project, operating out of a decommissioned McDonald's (since dubbed McMoon's) at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. The project's goal is to recover and enhance as many of the original lunar landing images as possible."

"[Richard] Nafzger is currently preparing a report on the results of the search and cannot discuss them until NASA releases the report, the date of which is uncertain. "But since I am not running down the street waving a flag and shouting 'Eureka!' you can draw your own conclusions. The big picture is that there is an explanation for everything," he says."

"Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, Karen Person, head of the Renaissance Entertainment & Media Group, is not waiting for Nafzger's results. She says she has acquired one of the original 2-in. NASA recordings of the broadcast video and is using it as the basis of a documentary titled July Moon, which she hopes to have in theaters for the 40th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20. The video has been transferred to MPEG-4 format and parts have been enhanced, she says."

LRO Status 6/23/09 6:35 pm EDT, LRO Team Blog

"About a week and half after reaching the commissioning orbit we will begin activating the remaining instruments and start calibrating them. These have not been turned on yet for a number of reasons. First, the insertion at the moon is a critical and time constrained phase of the mission and the prime focus is safely delivering LRO into the right orbit. Secondly, the instruments (except the radiation instruments which are already on) are not designed to yield very useful or interesting data from anywhere except LRO's planned orbits. The cameras in particular are designed to build their images as the lunar surfaces passes through their FOV at ~1.6 km/s as LRO orbits the moon. They cannot be simply pointed at the moon or earth during our transit to the moon and snap a photo."

Keith's note: What a cogent answer. Too bad these folks did not tell this to EMSD PAO last week. Or did no one think to ask them? I am now told that LROC images will be released in "early" July - in other words, in a few weeks. When I first asked ESMD PAO when the images would be released last week they were not exactly certain and replied that it could be "within the first couple of months". Then they said "a month to a month and a half". PAO often reports exactly what mission managers and PIs tell them to say since they are the experts. I find it rather curious that the story that ESMD PAO was fed (and repeated to me) has suddenly changed and that images are now going to be available much sooner than had originally been stated. Why didn't they just say so in the first place?

When Will NASA Release LRO Imagery?, earlier post
NASA ESMD PAO Statement Regarding Release of LRO Imagery, earlier post

NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Successfully Enters Moon Orbit

"After a four and a half day journey from the Earth, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has successfully entered orbit around the moon. Engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., confirmed the spacecraft's lunar orbit insertion at 6:27 a.m. EDT Tuesday. During transit to the moon, engineers performed a mid-course correction to get the spacecraft in the proper position to reach its lunar destination. Since the moon is always moving, the spacecraft shot for a target point ahead of the moon. When close to the moon, LRO used its rocket motor to slow down until the gravity of the moon caught the spacecraft in lunar orbit."

New NASA Missions to Reach Moon Tuesday, Sending Back Live Video

"At 8:20 a.m. Tuesday, the Science Operations Center at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., will stream live telemetry-based spacecraft animation and the visible camera images from the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, spacecraft as it swings by the moon before entering into a looping polar Earth orbit. Live video streaming via the Internet will last approximately one hour.

The live video streams of the LCROSS swingby will be available at:"

Keith's note: I received this by email from ESMD PAO Representative Grey Hautaluoma this afternoon. The last sentence really floors me: "Due to the massive amount of data that will be coming down from LRO, we're evaluating how to best present the raw material before the mandatory submission to the Planetary Data System, and I will keep you informed as I have more details." This mission has been under development for over 3 years and this still has not been determined? Someone at ESMD PAO should talk to the Cassini and MER folks - they have been doing this for more than half a decade.

"At the present time the highest priority is to assure safe operation of all LRO spacecraft subsystems, so we do not yet have a detailed schedule for instrument activation.

LRO's lunar orbit insertion is scheduled for Tuesday morning, followed by orbit trimming burns over the next four days. Then we will be in our commissioning orbit, where we spend approximately two months activating and calibrating the instruments and making observations in support of LCROSS. After those tasks are completed we will enter our normal mapping orbit that is circular at about 50 km altitude.

Twitter posting from ARC PAO's Dolores Beasley @ddbeasley "LCROSS-sized impacts occur on the moon @ 3-4 times monthly. Our impact won't damage the moon or change its orbit in any way!"

Keith's note: Hmm, LCROSS is an "impactor" - something that will crash into the moon at high speed. As such, it will most certainly do some "damage". That's the whole point. Hopefully it will do enough damage such that a lot of debris will be thrown up in a large plume that can be scrutinized for its composition. As for affecting the moon's orbit - the effect may be small, but all such collisions perturb the moon's orbit - albeit ever so slightly.

But then there is this collosal goofiness at our least illustrious newspaper here in Metro DC, the Washington Examiner "NASA moon bombing violates space law & may cause conflict with lunar ET/UFO civilizations" which states "If the true intent of the LCROSS mission moon bombing is a hostile act by NASA against known extraterrestrial civilizations and settlements on the moon, then NASA and by extension the U.S. government are guilty of aggressive war which is the most serious of war crimes under the U.N. Charter and the Geneva Conventions, to which the U.S. is subject."

There was a goofy TV show on last night called "Impact" where "a piece of a brown dwarf" hits the moon, makes it twice as heavy as Earth, changes the laws of physics, and sends the uber heavy Moon on a collision course with Earth. Maybe that is what Dolores is referring to. Video below.

Moon Pirates

Moon Missions - 40 Years Apart - But Still Like Minded, LOIRP

"This pirate flag image sits at the bottom of the LRO Mission Team's Blog. At the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) located in an abandoned McDonalds outside the gate at ARC, we adopted a similar motif ... we fly a similar flag in our front window and opened our recent presentation at the Apple World Wide Developers Conference with one as well. We even have t-shirts for sale!"

LRO Blog, Blogspot

"This blog follows the progress of the LRO mission through Integration and Testing at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and launch site processing at KSC\Astrotech. Its purpose is to enable communication to the entire LRO Team about the status of ongoing activities."

Keith's note: This blog is updated rather frequently with some very interesting information - so I would suggest that you just ignore this NASA HQ LRO site and this NASA GSFC LRO site which have little current information. Strangely, neither of these NASA official websites link to this much more informative blog - one that is updated by the actual mission team.

I have sent repeated emails to NASA ESMD PAO trying to find out when LRO images will be released. Based on the email replies they have sent me, it would seem that no images will be released to the public for several months. Moreover, NASA is apparently only going to highlight selected images when they are eventually released. And yes, I understand that the LROC needs to be tested and calibrated, but many other missions regularly issue preliminary images - even if they are not the best quality.

Indeed, the LCROSS team is going to post live imagery online as LCROSS makes its first pass by the Moon on Tuesday, 23 June. Meanwhile, according to "LRO Mission Status 6/20/2009 11:45 EDT on the the LRO Blog "We have turned on decontamination heaters on the LRO Camera to drive out moisture and any other volatiles before we turn on LROC." So ... when will the LRO send back its first images - and why can't we see them as soon as they arrive on Earth?

Contrast this with the Cassini and MER missions who publish raw images on their websites almost as soon as they arrive on Earth. A search of the LROC website reveals nothing as to when we'll actually see images. They do not seem to be in much of a hurry to let people know what is going since this page says "LROC images are not currently available, because the orbiter is still waiting for launch. Once launched, the orbiter will began taking amazing pictures of the moon."

"Amazing"? Absolutely. I am sure that the images will vastly exceed expectations. But why should LRO be different from other missions when it comes to releasing imagery?

Back to the Moon

NASA Returning to the Moon with First Lunar Launch in a Decade

"NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter launched at 5:32 p.m. EDT Thursday aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The satellite will relay more information about the lunar environment than any other previous mission to the moon. The orbiter, known as LRO, separated from the Atlas V rocket carrying it and a companion mission, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, and immediately began powering up the components necessary to control the spacecraft. The flight operations team established communication with LRO and commanded the successful deployment of the solar array at 7:40 p.m. The operations team continues to check out the spacecraft subsystems and prepare for the first mid-course correction maneuver. NASA scientists expect to establish communications with LCROSS about four hours after launch, at approximately 9:30 p.m."

Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) Releases New Image of Apollo 12/Surveyor III Landing Site

"This image LO3-154-H was taken by Lunar Orbiter III on 20 February 1967 and shows the landing site for both Surveyor III (landed 20 April 1967) and Apollo 12 (landed 19 November 1969). Figure 1 shows the region without labels. Figure 2 shows major features plus EVA routes. This image has been recovered in its original high resolution format from original Lunar Orbiter project data tapes using restored tape drive hardware and will eventually be submitted to the PDS (Planetary Data System)."

Keith's note: Word has it that NASA SMD is threatening to take all Mars R&A funds that are not released for
awards by the end of June to use elsewhere inside of SMD. Many are concerned that this action will spread outside of the Mars program. Either way, in the end, science is suffering due to the way that SMD is being run.

In a related noted, I have been compiling a list of mission delays that have happened in the past year under Ed Weiler. These slips are related to cost overruns that SMD is unable and/or unwilling to contain. Please let me know if I have missed any:

SDO: slipped from 2008 to 2009
MSL: slipped from 2009 to 2011
LDCM: slipped from 2011 to 2012
LADEE: slipped from 2011 to 2012
ILN: slipped from 2013 to 2018
JWST: slipped from 2013 to 2014
Solar Probe: slipped from 2015 to 2018
Mars Sample Return: slipped from 2018 to 2022 (or later)

Keith's note: According to a NASA press conference, LRO has given up its 17 June launch date to STS-127. If shuttle scrubs before midnight on 16 June then a 18 June launch is still possible for LRO.

Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) Releases New Image of the Moon's South Pole

"This image was taken by Lunar Orbiter IV in May 1967 and shows the south pole of the Moon. Figure 1 shows the region with out labels. The moon's south pole is located near the rim of Shackleton Crater. Adjacent to the south pole is Shoemaker crater named in honor of famed planetary geologist Eugene Shoemaker. The Lunar Prospector spacecraft, carrying some of Shoemaker's ashes, was deliberately crashed in this crater in an attempt to see if any water ice would be thrown up by the impact. The Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) will be targeted to impact at either the south pole of the moon. As such. the moon's polar regions are of great interest right now."


Kaguya's Impact Point On The Moon Has Been Identified

"Japan's lunar explorer "KAGUYA", which was in the extended operational phase, has been carrying out observations of the Moon from lower altitude since February 1, 2009, to continued observations in more detail. The "KAGUYA" was conclude its scientific mission to the Moon through a uncontrolled impact on the lunar surface."

Kaguya Has Crashed into the Moon, Lunar Picture of the Day

This photo (Frame 133-H2) of the future Apollo 14 landing site was taken by Lunar Orbiter III on 20 February 1967 at an orbital altitude of 46.7 km. The resolution of the image is around 0.8 meters per pixel. The area covered by this image is 4.52167 x 5.77666 km.

Figure 1 shows the image unlabeled. In Figure 2 we have overlaid the EVA route upon this image so as to show where the crew set foot. While the crew were supposed to visit Cone crater they stopped 20 meters short of doing so due to some confusion as to their exact location. That said, they did visit some large rocks located adjacent to Cone crater's rim. The enlargement of this Lunar Orbiter image clearly shows some large rocks poised near the crater's rim. The inset photo shows the largest outcropping as photographed by the crew on the surface.

[images and information at Moonviews]

Feasibility of using Constellation Architecture for Servicing Existing and Future Observatory-Class Scientific Spacecraft, NASA SMD

"The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is soliciting information through this Request for Information (RFI) to improve its understanding of using the capabilities of its Constellation System, adaptations of the Constellation System architectures, and/or robotic technologies to service a wide range of notional science observatory-class spacecraft. The NASA-defined notional missions studied will be consistent with NASA's current portfolio of future space science missions and/or conceptual mission ideas that were presented to the National Research Council's (NRC's) Committee on Science Opportunities Enabled by NASA's Constellation System during the spring of 2008. These notional missions include observatories designed to operate in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), at Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO), and at Earth-Sun Lagrangian points L1 and L2."

Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) Releases New High Resolution Image of the Ocean of Storms

"The Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) has released a newly-retrieved, high resolution image taken of the lunar surface 42 years ago. This image was taken by Lunar Orbiter III (LPI data) in February 1967. This oblique photo shows the region around the crater Galilaei and Planitia Descensus in Oceanus Procellarum (the Sea of Storms). In the upper center of the image you can see the Great Wall of Procellarum."

Thursday 12 June 2009: noon: "Come hear Dennis Wingo of the Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project (LOIRP) discuss their use of Mac OS X technology to save our Space Race heritage. LOIRP is retrieving, digitizing and publishing high-resolution pictures of the Moon captured by five NASA space probes ahead of the Apollo 11 moon landings in 1969. These tapes - rescued from destruction by a determined NASA archivist - represent some of the highest-resolution pictures ever taken of the Moon's surface and are a priceless piece of history."

More info at

LOIRP Releases Lunar Orbiter Ranger 8 Impact Crater Image

"The Lunar Orbiter II-070-H image (Frame 70, High resolution) has a unique feature that is relevant to the LCROSS mission. This image shows the impact site of the Ranger 8 mission. This location was identified decades ago and is discussed in the NASA SP-168. This location was also photographed during the Apollo 16 mission (NASA SP-315 page 29-46) but at a lower resolution of 3-5 meters. The image was taken from an altitude of 45.81 km. The resolution is about 0.4 meters per pixel. The crater from the Ranger impact is not well defined in the existing film database, especially as it appears at the boundary between two framelets."

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's Rebooting Resembles February Event

"NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is in safe mode and in communications with Earth after an unexpected rebooting of its computer Wednesday evening, June 3. The spontaneous reboot resembles a Feb. 23 event on the spacecraft. Engineers concluded the most likely cause for that event was a cosmic ray or solar particle hitting electronics and causing an erroneous voltage reading. The reboot occurred at approximately 6:10 p.m. PDT (9:10 p.m. EDT) on June 3. This is the sixth time since the spacecraft's August 2005 launch that it has entered safe mode, which is its programmed precaution when it senses a condition for which it does not know a more specific response."



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This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from June 2009.

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