In the footsteps of Apollo 11

LRO image of the Apollo 11 landing site

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter took this image of the Apollo 11 landing site, showing the equipment left on the surface of the Moon.

NASA’S LUNAR RECONNAISSANCE ORBITER spacecraft took this amazing image from an altitude of just 24 kilometres above the surface of the Moon. It shows the descent stage of the Apollo 11 lunar module, right where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left it in July 1969. Also visible are the instrument packages the two astronauts set out on the lunar surface not far from the lunar module.

So take that, Moon landing conspiracy theorists!

Visible are dark squiggly lines joining the various man-made objects. These are the tracks left by the astronauts as their boots scuffed up the powdery lunar dust.

The LRRR was the Laser Ranging RetroReflector, a device that contained “corner reflectors”—special lenses that send a light beam back out in the same direction it enters. Scientists fired laser beams at the LRRR and timed how long it took for the signals to return to Earth, enabling them to make incredibly accurate measurements of the distance to the Moon.

And because the LRRR is a passive device with no electrical requirements and no moving parts, it is still used today.

Also visible is the Passive Seismic Experiment Package(PSEP), a seismometer that detected “moonquakes” and the impact of spacecraft and radioed the data back to Earth.

Apollo 11 surface image showing the lunar module and Little West crater

Neil Armstrong (whose shadow can be seen at left) ran over to take a look at Little West crater, about 50 metres from the lunar module.

You can see a trail leading to the crater (called Little West) on the right of the lunar module. This is where Neil Armstrong ran over to take a look. The distance is about 60 metres, and marks the furthest point either of the astronauts ventured from the lunar module.

(Take a look at this Apollo Lunar Surface Journal page for a more detailed image.)

Astronauts on later missions were far less constrained in their movements, as they had more time for their spacewalks. In addition, the final three Apollo mission carried lunar rovers that enabled their astronauts to travel further.

Story by Jonathan Nally. Images courtesy NASA.

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