NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has transmitted its first images since reaching lunar orbit June 23. The spacecraft has two cameras -- a low resolution wide angle camera and a high resolution narrow angle camera.
Collectively known as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, or LROC, they were activated June 30. The cameras are working well and have returned images of a region a few kilometers east of Hell E crater in the lunar highlands south of Mare Nubium.
As the moon rotates beneath LRO, LROC gradually will build up photographic maps of the lunar surface.
"Our first images were taken along the moon's terminator -- the dividing line between day and night -- making us initially unsure of how they would turn out," said LROC Principal Investigator Mark Robinson of Arizona State University in Tempe. "Because of the deep shadowing, subtle topography is exaggerated, suggesting a craggy and inhospitable surface. In reality, the area is similar to the region where the Apollo 16 astronauts safely explored in 1972. While these are magnificent in their own right, the main message is that LROC is nearly ready to begin its mission."
LRO will help NASA identify safe landing sites for future explorers, locate potential resources, describe the moon's radiation environment and demonstrate new technologies.
The satellite also has started to activate its six other instruments. The Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector will look for regions with enriched hydrogen that potentially could have water ice deposits. The Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation is designed to measure the moon's radiation environment. Both were activated on June 19 and are functioning normally.