Gallery: NASA takes first small step back to moon
The LRO is scheduled to spend a year examining and mapping the lunar surface for possible treasures and landing sites for future astronauts. It will also release a probe called the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) that will crash into the moon in search of water ice. Then the LRO will devote its next (and probably last) two years to science.
Photo credits: NASA
At Goddard, the LRO was wrapped in plastic and placed in a box for shipping to Florida.
Credit: NASA/Andy Freeberg
"We have cooked LRO, frozen it, shaken it, and blasted it with electromagnetic waves, and still it operates," said Dave Everett, LRO mission system engineer at Goddard. "We have performed more than 2,500 hours of powered testing since January, more than 600 of that in vacuum."
An artist's concept of the LRO. Credit: NASA
Credit: NASA/Debbie McCallum
When a target inside a permanently shadowed lunar crater is chosen, the Centaur will separate from the LCROSS and then crash into the crater. LCROSS will pass through the resulting plume about four minutes later to collect and send data back to Earth. The relatively inexpensive LCROSS probe will then crash into the moon to create a second plume for analysis.
Here scientists at Grumman check LCROSS.
Credit: NASA, courtesy of Northrop Grumman
Credit: NASA/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio
In this image, the blue areas show the least amount of neutrons - where hydrogen buildups are likely. It is hoped that water ice can be located in these areas. Water costs about $50,000 a pound to ship to the moon so finding a deposit there would be priceless.
Helium 3 is another compound that is much more plentiful on the moon than the Earth. Although its power has yet to be harnessed, many scientists believe that Helium 3 could be an ultra-powerful and clean energy source on Earth.
Credit: William Feldman/Los Alamos National Labs
Credit: NASA/Neil A. Armstrong, Lunar Module commander
While the LRO is visiting the moon, NASA will continue to test other equipment that will be used by astronauts. One is NASA's new Small Pressurized Rover. Shown here at the 2008 Desert RATS tests at Black Point Lava Flow in Arizona, the pressurized vehicle will allow astronauts to live in the rover for days so they can explore new lunar regions.
Another artist's concept of LRO. Credit: NASA