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The day we touched the Moon

IN TRIBUTE TO THE LATE Neil Armstrong, a temporary display case was set up in the James S. McDonnell Space Hangar at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Washington, D.C. The display included the gloves and visor that Armstrong wore when he first stepped on the surface of the Moon July 20, 1969. They were among the most visible parts of his Apollo 11 spacesuit and were designed specifically to deal with the hazards of working on the lunar surface.

The gloves have blue silicone fingertips and stainless-steel fabric that wraps the hands with a long white gauntlet, with instructions printed on the left one. The visor provided the protection astronauts needed to survive in the absence of the sun-filtering effects of the Earth’s atmosphere. These objects were transferred to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum from NASA in 1971.

Gloves worn by astronaut Neil Armstrong

These gloves were made for and worn by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. They are made of Chromel-R fabric with insulation for protection against extreme hot and cold, while the fingertips consist of a rubber/neoprene compound to provide sensitivity.

Visor Assembly worn by Neil Armstrong

The A7-L Lunar Extravehicular Visor Assembly was worn by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission and consists of a polycarbonate shell. This helmet was worn over the pressure helmet and provided the protection needed during moonwalk periods.

 

Spacesuits worn by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin

The spacesuits worn by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

 

Apollo 11 Command Module

The Apollo 11 Command Module, Columbia, was the living quarters for the three-person crew during most of the first manned lunar-landing mission. This Command Module, no. 107, manufactured by North American Rockwell, was one of three parts of the complete Apollo spacecraft. The other two parts were the Service Module and the Lunar Module, nicknamed "Eagle." The Service Module contained the main spacecraft propulsion system and consumables while the Lunar Module was the two-person craft used by Armstrong and Aldrin to descend to the moon's surface July 20. The Command Module is the only portion of the spacecraft to return to Earth. It was transferred to the Smithsonian in 1970 following a NASA-sponsored tour of USA cities.

Adapted from information issued by the Smithsonian Institution. Photos by Dane Penland, Mark Avino and Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum’

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In the astronauts’ footsteps

LRO image of Apollo 12 landing site

LRO's image of the Apollo 12 landing site, showing the lunar module, Surveyor III probe (see image below) and the astronauts' tracks.

NASA’S LUNAR RECONNAISSANCE ORBITER (LRO) has captured the sharpest images ever taken from space of the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 landing sites. The images show the twists and turns of the paths made when the astronauts explored the lunar surface.

At the Apollo 17 site, the tracks laid down by the lunar rover are clearly visible, along with the last foot trails left on the Moon. The images also show where the astronauts placed some of the scientific instruments that provided the first insight into the Moon’s environment and interior.

“We can retrace the astronauts’ steps with greater clarity to see where they took lunar samples,” said Noah Petro, a lunar geologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre and member of the LRO project science team.

All three images show distinct trails left in the Moon’s thin soil when the astronauts exited the lunar modules and explored on foot.

Apollo image of Apollo 12 lunar module and Surveyor III

The Apollo 12 crew intentionally landed near the Surveyor III probe, which has soft-landed on the Moon to test its surface some years prior to the first manned missions.

In the Apollo 17 image, the foot trails, including the last path made on the Moon by humans, are easily distinguished from the dual tracks left by the lunar rover, which remains parked east of the lander.

A sharper view

“The new low-altitude Narrow Angle Camera images sharpen our view of the Moon’s surface,” said Arizona State University researcher Mark Robinson, principal investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC).

“A great example is the sharpness of the rover tracks at the Apollo 17 site. In previous images the rover tracks were visible, but now they are sharp parallel lines on the surface.”

LRO image of Apollo 17 landing site

LRO image of the Apollo 17 landing site. Apollo 17 was the final manned mission to the Moon.

At each site, trails also run to the west of the landers, where the astronauts placed the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) to monitor the Moon’s environment and interior. This equipment was a key part of every Apollo mission.

It provided the first insights into the Moon’s internal structure, measurements of the lunar surface pressure and the composition of its atmosphere. Apollo 11 carried a simpler version of the science package.

One of the details that shows up is a bright L-shape in the Apollo 12 image. It marks the locations of cables running from ALSEP’s central station to two of its instruments. Although the cables are much too small for direct viewing, they show up because they reflect light very well.

In a perfect position

The higher resolution of these images is possible because of adjustments made to LRO’s orbit, which is slightly oval-shaped or elliptical.

“Without changing the average altitude, we made the orbit more elliptical, so the lowest part of the orbit is on the sunlit side of the Moon,” said Goddard’s John Keller, deputy LRO project scientist.

“This put LRO in a perfect position to take these new pictures of the surface.”

LRO image of Apollo 14 landing site

LRO image of Apollo 14 landing site showing the location of the lunar module as well as the astronaut's tracks.

Apollo 14 image showing the lunar module on the surface of the Moon

Apollo 14 image showing the lunar module on the surface of the Moon. The shiny tracks are impressions left in the dust by a hand-drawn equipment cart, which the astronaut's nicknamed the "rickshaw".

The manoeuvre lowered LRO from its usual altitude of approximately 50 kilometres to an altitude that dipped as low as nearly 21 kilometres as it passed over the Moon’s surface.

The spacecraft has remained in this orbit for 28 days, long enough for the Moon to completely rotate. This allows full coverage of the surface by LROC’s Wide Angle Camera. The cycle ended yesterday when the spacecraft was returned to its 50km orbit.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Designing capsules for space

WHY WAS THE APOLLO capsule shaped like a gumdrop? Learn about the blunt-shaped capsules used for past and present NASA spacecraft in this NASA video, which shows how engineers come up with novel and useful designs.

Adapted from information issued by NASA.

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Moon’s core values

The Moon

New analysis of Apollo mission seismometer data has revealed similarities between the Earth and Moon's cores.

  • Moon long assumed to have a core, but its nature remained a mystery
  • New analysis of old Apollo-era seismic data reveals the core’s nature
  • Future space missions will provide even greater certainty

STATE-OF-THE-ART seismological techniques applied to Apollo-era data suggest our Moon has a core similar to Earth’s.

Uncovering details about the lunar core is critical for developing accurate models of the Moon’s formation. The data sheds light on the evolution of a lunar dynamo—a natural process by which our Moon may have generated and maintained its own strong magnetic field.

The team’s findings suggest the Moon possesses a solid, iron-rich inner core with a radius of nearly 240 kilometres and a fluid, primarily liquid-iron outer core with a radius of roughly 330 kilometres.

Where it differs from Earth is a partially molten boundary layer around the core estimated to have a radius of nearly 480 kilometres.

The research indicates the core contains a small percentage of light elements such as sulphur, echoing new seismology research on Earth that suggests the presence of light element

Passive Seismic Experiment deployed on the Moon

A close-up view of the Passive Seismic Experiment, deployed on the Moon by the Apollo 14 astronauts.

s—such as sulphur and oxygen—in a layer around our own core.

New use for old data

The researchers used extensive data gathered during the Apollo-era Moon missions. The Apollo Passive Seismic Experiment consisted of four seismometers deployed between 1969 and 1972, which recorded continuous lunar seismic activity until late-1977.

“We applied tried and true methodologies from terrestrial seismology to this legacy data set to present the first-ever direct detection of the Moon’s core,” said Renee Weber, lead researcher and space scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Centre.

In addition to Weber, the team consisted of scientists from Marshall; Arizona State University; the University of California at Santa Cruz; and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris in France.

The team also analysed Apollo lunar seismograms using array processing, techniques that identify and distinguish signal sources of moonquakes and other seismic activity.

The researchers identified how and where seismic waves passed through or were reflected by elements of the Moon’s interior, signifying the composition and state of layer interfaces at varying depths.

Disagreements

Although sophisticated satellite imaging missions to the Moon made significant contributions to the study of its history and topography, the deep interior of Earth’s sole natural satellite remained a subject of speculation and conjecture since the Apollo era.

Artist's rendering of the lunar core

An artist's rendering of the lunar core, as identified in new findings by a NASA-led research team.

Researchers previously had inferred the existence of a core, based on indirect estimates of the Moon’s interior properties, but many disagreed about its radius, state and composition.

A primary limitation to past lunar seismic studies was the wash of “noise” caused by overlapping signals bouncing repeatedly off structures in the Moon’s fractionated crust.

To mitigate this challenge, Weber and the team employed an approach called seismogram stacking, or the digital partitioning of signals. Stacking improved the signal-to-noise ratio and enabled the researchers to more clearly track the path and behaviour of each unique signal as it passed through the lunar interior.

“We hope to continue working with the Apollo seismic data to further refine our estimates of core properties and characterise lunar signals as clearly as possible to aid in the interpretation of data returned from future missions,” Weber said.

Twin spacecraft to study Moon

Future NASA missions will help gather more detailed data. The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL, is a NASA Discovery-class mission set to launch this year. The mission consists of twin spacecraft that will enter tandem orbits around the Moon for several months to measure the gravity field in unprecedented detail.

The mission also will answer longstanding questions about the Moon and provide scientists a better understanding of the satellite from crust to core, revealing subsurface structures and, indirectly, its thermal history.

NASA and other space agencies have been studying concepts to establish an International Lunar Network—a robotic set of geophysical monitoring stations on the Moon—as part of efforts to co-ordinate international missions during the coming decade.

Adapted from information issued by NASA / MSFC / JSC / Renee Weber.

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