LRO sends new images of landing sites

Never give up

How close did the two astronauts get to the Cone Crater before they gave up? NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) sent new pictures of the landing zone from the Apollo 14 mission. The answer is astounding: Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchel were only 90 feet away from their destination when they turned around after having walked 0.9 miles through the Fra Mauro highlands already.

Apollo 14 Astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell explored the Fra Mauro highlands, which are composed of ejecta from the massive Imbrium impact. During two lunar surface extravehicular activities, Shepard and Mitchell deployed an Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package ALSEP, tested the Modular Equipment Transporter (MET; a small wheeled cart used to transport samples and equipment), and collected almost 90 pounds of invaluable lunar rock and soil. The ALSEP is visible about 180 meters west of the lunar module, note the well worn footpath connecting the two artifacts.

During the second EVA, the astronauts performed what is known as a “radial traverse” across the ejecta field and up to the rim of Cone crater. When impact craters form, rocks excavated from the deepest parts of the crater fall near the rim; surface rocks end up away from the crater. Thus, as explorers move up a crater's ejecta blanket, they can sample a complete stratigraphic section of geologic materials providing priceless insights about the composition and nature of the lunar subsurface. Think of an impact crater as a natural road cut exposing rocks from depth.

In this LROC image, you can follow nearly the whole path walked by the two astronauts. The term “radial traverse” does not quite do the crew of Apollo 14 justice. Their journey sounds like a stroll in the park, however the reality is quite the contrary. The hike up Cone crater was quite challenging. For the first time, astronauts traveled out of the sight of their lunar module while hiking uphill over 1400 meters with only a poor map, dragging the tool cart (MET), and wearing their bulky spacesuits. It was an amazing feat that the two astronauts made it to the top of Cone ridge and acquired all their samples. They ended up about 30 meters shy of peering into Cone crater itself, surely a disappointment at the time, but absolutely no reflection on the success of the traverse and the scientific results gleaned after the mission.

Despite the momentous discoveries made by the Apollo 14 and Apollo 16 crews as they explored the highlands, there is still much we do not know. In particular, lunar scientists are eager to use the remote sensing data returned by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Kaguya, and Chandrayaan-1 to look for evidence of highland rock types which may be underrepresented in the current Apollo sample collection. Since we only explored two highland locations located in close proximity, it is possible that there are highland rock types which have not yet been sampled. By identifying the location of any under-sampled rock types on the lunar surface using orbital data, the scientific results obtained by these new lunar scouts will help to determine the places on the Moon where we need to send future human explorers.

LROC News System