Monday, April 30, 2012

The discarded extension of the Ranger program

Site of the guided impact of Ranger 9, March 24, 1965 (12.82°S, 357.61°E). LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) observation M170579736R, LRO orbit 10272, September 13, 2012; resolution 49.6 cm, angle of incidence 16.1° from 44.64 kilometers. There are images of the impact showing more relief but this most recently released view, under a high sun, balances detail with contrast exposing more detail of the wispy ejecta albedo [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
David S. F. Portree
WIRED/Beyond Apollo

In the summer and fall of 1962, NASA Headquarters planned at least 18 missions in the Ranger series. Some would have imaged the moon’s surface to certify potential Apollo landing sites, while others would have had a more purely scientific intent. On December 13, 1963, however, the total shrank to nine, with science missions taking the brunt of the cuts. Ranger itself was partly to blame; all five Rangers flown up to that time had failed, undermining confidence in the program and building support for an early switch to Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor, Ranger’s intended successor programs.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, built the Rangers on contract to NASA Headquarters. The probes left Earth atop Atlas rockets with Agena B upper stages (image at top of post). Rangers 1 and 2, Block I spacecraft designed to test spacecraft systems and return data on conditions in space up to 1.1 million kilometers from Earth, weighed a little over 300 kilograms each. Both reached low-Earth orbit, where they became stranded by Agena B failures. Ranger 1 lifted off on August 23, 1961, and burned up in the atmosphere a week later. NASA launched Ranger 2 on November 18, 1961; it burned up just two days later.

Ranger - Block III - spacecraft diagram [NASA].
Rangers 3 through 5 were Block II spacecraft designed to image the moon during approach and then rough-land a balsa wood-cushioned instrument capsule bearing a battery-powered seismometer. Rangers 3 and 4 weighed about 330 kilograms; Ranger 5 was somewhat heavier (342 kilograms). Ranger 3, launched on January 26, 1962, missed the moon by 36,800 kilometers on January 28 and entered orbit around the Sun. Ranger 4, launched April 23, 1962, lost power 10 hours after launch after its twin tapering solar arrays failed to open. It became the first Ranger to touch the moon, crashing inert on the lunar Farside (the hemisphere turned always away from Earth) on April 26. Ranger 5 also suffered a power failure shortly after launch on October 18, 1962; it passed about 725 kilometers over the moon on October 21 and entered solar orbit. After the Ranger 5 failure, NASA tasked the RCA Astro Division with reworking the spacecraft’s electronics.

Block III Rangers, the next in the series, were meant to radio to Earth images of the lunar surface as they plummeted toward destructive impact. All weighed about 365 kilograms. Ranger 6, the first of the Block III Rangers, left Earth on January 30, 1964. It transmitted signals until it struck the moon’s Mare Tranquillitatis – the Sea of Tranquility – within a few kilometers of its target on February 2, 1964, but its six cameras never switched on. The failure led to an independent review board, new program management, a Congressional investigation, and calls for the program’s cancellation.

Read the full article HERE.

Developing Space: ASTech International Conference

Following on the success of the Space Access international conference organized by ASTech in Paris in 2010, the ASTech International Conference - Developing Space - will address the expansion of scientific and economic activities into cislunar space, which is a topic of major importance for the future of space activities in the world, and more generally for the future of humanity.

To be held in the center of Paris, December 17-19, 2012, the conference will provide a unique opportunity for the European space community to present its projects and visions in a global international forum, with strong participation from established space powers (United States, Canada, Japan, Russia) and emerging space powers (China, India).

The first half-century of space activities has profoundly changed Earth’s society and economy for the better, with the development of a wide range of satellite uses: space telecommunications, navigation, positioning and timing, Earth observation for security, meteorology and climate monitoring, remote sensing for environmental surveillance and other economic and public goods activities. It has also transformed our view of the Universe and opened a new frontier for the expansion of human civilization, with the installation of a permanently inhabited facility close to the Earth, and the first human excursions to another celestial body, the Moon.

The second half-century of space activities will build on these foundations and become the era of exploitation of cislunar space and its resources by a combination of robotic and crewed systems, pursuing scientific, public service and economic goals. The objective of ASTech International Conference - Developing Space - is to address the technical and programmatic challenges of the expansion of humanity’s sphere of activities to cislunar space, which includes the various currently used Earth orbits (LEO, MEO, GEO), the Lagrange points of the Earth-Moon system, lunar orbits and the lunar surface, and the two Lagrange points of the Sun-Earth System which at 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth are the most distant places of the new zone soon open for exploitation by humans.

For information, visit

WIPS: Barbara Cohen, Renaissance Woman

Kat Gardner-Vandy
Women in Planetary Science

Dr. Barbara Cohen is a planetary scientist as NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, AL. Barb has a B.S. in Geology from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and a Ph.D. in Planetary Sciences from the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL). 

She is an expert in the geochronology and geochemistry of meteorites and serves as the project scientist for the US nodes of the International Lunar Network.  

Barb has been to Antarctica twice as part of the Antarctic Search for Meteorites (ANSMET) program, driven the Mars Exploration Rovers around Mars, and even has an asteroid named after her (6816 Barbcohen). Barb is currently in the process of building a new flight instrument and a new noble-gas laboratory at MSFC.

As a current grad student at LPL, I was eager to interview Barb for the 51 Women in Planetary Science series.

Read the interview HERE.

3rd Annual Next Generation Lunar Scientists and Engineers Workshop, July 16

The 3rd annual Next Generation Lunar Scientists & Engineers (NGLSE) Workshop will be held on Monday, July 16, 2012 at the NASA Ames Research Center (ARC), preceding the NASA Lunar Science Forum

This one-day workshop for graduate students and early career professionals offers the opportunity for participants to network with other students/early career professionals, and will specifically include a media training workshop. The purpose of this group is to engage and develop the next generation of lunar scientists and engineers, and to enable their successful involvement in current planning for the exploration of the Moon.

For more details, visit: or email any questions to:

In addition, registration is now open for the 3nd Annual Lunar Graduate Conference (LunGradCon 2012) to be held on Saturday and Sunday, July 14-15, 2012, also at NASA ARC ahead of the NASA Lunar Science Forum.

LunGradCon provides an opportunity for grad students and early-career postdocs to present research on lunar science in a low-stress, friendly environment, being critiqued only by their peers. In addition to oral presentations, the conference presents opportunities for professional development and networking with fellow grad students and postdocs, as well as senior members of the NASA Lunar Science Institute.

For more details, please visit: or email any questions to:  

ESA's MoonNEXT boosted by ATV development

MoonNEXT - EADS-Astrium Bremen's proposed lunar lander for the European Space Agency, under development for a landing near the Moon's south pole, possibly in 2018..
Dan Thisdell

European Space Agency plans for a robotic Moon landing have been boosted by successful testing of a rocket motor which ESA engineers plan to use to control the lander's descent on the 2018 expedition.

The thruster is the same unit as used on ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV), selected to save development cost and for its known reliability - as demonstrated on International Space Station resupply missions. But specific testing at EADS Astrium's facility in Lampoldshausen, Germany to simulate a lunar descent and touchdown in a vacuum has convinced ESA the ATV thruster will do the job.

According to mission study manager Bérengère Houdou, the landing will take about 90 minutes from a 100km lunar orbit, but the final 10 minutes will be extremely challenging, with dynamics similar to those experienced at launch. In the lunar vacuum, all the braking is carried out by rocket power, which means a huge fuel burn.

Thus, says Houdou, thrust must be adjustable to account for a tremendous change in the lander's mass as it approaches the Moon, as a rocket powerful enough to slow the craft's early descent would be powerful enough to cause it to "bounce back" off the surface.

However, while much of the purpose of the mission is to prove European technologies suitable for use on later, manned international missions - for cargo supply, for example - Europe does not have a single engine capable of such modulation.

So, says Houdou, the lander will carry a cluster of motors which can be switched on or off individually to vary the total thrust. One of the key milestones achieved in the latest tests was to show that the ATV engine is accurately controllable in high-frequency pulses.

The next stage of testing, she says, will attempt to verify the interaction of several engines and their performance when connected by shared fuel lines. A design review should, in the coming months, outline the mission requirements and cost. Pending budget approval at this November's meeting of ESA member-state government ministers, Houdou hopes to have the mission ready for final preparation in 2015.

Unlike for a manned mission, ESA's flightplan is leisurely. A Soyuz-Fregat launch from Kourou, French Guiana will carry the lander to Earth orbit about halfway to the Moon, followed by a one- or two-month cruise to lunar orbit.

The landing site will be near the south pole, where "several months" of constant sunshine would allow a lengthy mission by sparing the spacecraft the devastating effects of temperatures that can plunge as low as -170˚C.

Boeing Huntsville: 50 years in Space

Employees and dignitaries gather around as Boeing Huntsville site
Vice-president Tony Jones makes remarks during Boeing employees
celebrating the company's 50th year in Alabama celebration, Monday,
April 30, 2012 [Robin Conn/The Huntsville Times].
Lee Roop
The Huntsville Times

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama -- Huntsville almost lost Boeing once, but hundreds celebrating the company's golden anniversary in North Alabama Monday don't expect that to happen again. "We will continue to have a strong presence in Alabama," promised Roger Krone, president of Network and Space Systems for the world's largest aerospace corporation.

Boeing had 4,500 Huntsville workers in the 1960s, when it helped NASA build the Saturn V booster that took Americans to the moon and the lunar rover that ferried them across its surface.

When the Apollo program ended abruptly in the 1970s, Boeing's employment dropped to fewer than 100 people in Huntsville, local leaders recalled Monday. It remained small until the 1980s when work on the International Space Station began a steady growth.

"How many of you came back to Huntsville from Wichita in 1984?" Madison County Commission Chairman Mike Gillespie asked Boeing workers and retirees gathered at the company's complex near the Huntsville International Airport.

A few hands went up, including electrical engineer Dwight Potter's. He actually came from Wichita in 1981, a few years before the Wichita simulation engineers arrived in 1984.

Boeing has nearly 3,000 workers in Huntsville today, local site executive Tony Jones said, and it is working with NASA on the next-generation heavy-lift space rocket and with the Army on ground-based missile defense.

The support contract for the missile defense program will keep many Boeing employees here working for the next seven years.

Read the post HERE.

Will China deploy the first lunar rover since 1976?

China's third unmanned lunar spacecraft Chang'e-3 deploys only the thrid teleoperated lunar rover on the Moon, the first in 37 years, in 2013 [CNTV/CLEP].
The United States scrubbed plans to land a robotic lunar rover on the Moon as unnecessary, originally an extension of the successful Surveyor program (1966-1968), in favor of concentrating all effort on carrying out the Apollo missions. Between 1968 and 1972 a total 24 Americans left Earth orbit to visit the Moon's vicinity (three of these went the distance twice), and 12 astronauts explored the lunar surface. Though the U.S. deployed three Mars rovers, with a fourth on the way, Russia alone holds the distinction of having landed and operated the only robotic rovers on the Moon.

Though many U.S. and international teams are competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize, and the U.S. presently has a total of five sophisticated probes in lunar orbit, it now seems almost certain that China will become the first nation to soft land anything on the Moon since the Soviet sampler Luna 24 came to rest in the far eastern Mare Crisium in 1976.

The U.S. has no hard commitment to land a vehicle on the Moon at present, though the International Lunar Network and a South Pole-Aitken basin farside sampling mission continue in the planning stages. Internal challenges in both Russia and India have caused delays to ambitious plans for lunar surface missions set alone and in tandem with one another. Japan's SELENE program, which at one time called for lunar rover, continues to muddle through severe budget challenges.

Though China admits to being somewhat behind on the timeline it has set for building its third lunar mission, Chang'e-3, intended as a rover deployed following a soft landing on the Moon, the PRC does not express concern over plans to carry out that mission in 2013. Articles about Chang'e-3 published by China's state-owned media continue to surface regularly.

Xin Dingding
China Daily

Only 12 Americans have so far walked on the moon. The next person to do so could be from China. 

According to a white paper, China's Space Activities in 2011, released in December, preliminary research on a manned moon landing will be carried out in the next five years, along with research on a heavy-thrust carrier rocket, vital for launching manned spacecraft to the moon.

Scientists expect a manned moon landing could be achieved by China in 20 years, though there is no fixed timetable yet.

Experts, however, say that before taking the giant step, China needs to complete its robotic lunar exploration program, as it will lay the platform for successful moon landings.

The chief scientist for the lunar exploration program, Ou-yang Ziyuan, has already indicated that China has the ability to launch men to moon, but it's "a single-trip ticket", meaning the nation does not have the capability to ensure that astronauts can return to Earth.

"The three steps set in the unmanned lunar exploration program are something China must undertake before commencing the plan to send men to the moon," he says.

China adopted the robotic lunar exploration program in 2004, which includes three steps - circling the moon, landing on the moon and returning with a sample.

China has completed the first step by launching the Chang'e-1 probe in 2007 to orbit around the moon, thereby becoming the fifth country in the world to independently launch lunar orbiters.

It is now in the second phase of achieving a soft landing on the moon. Chang'e-2, the backup satellite for Chang'e-1, was modified and launched in 2010 to test some key technologies for soft landing.

"Next year, the country's third lunar probe, Chang'e-3, is expected to be launched as planned and will conduct a soft landing on the moon," says Ye Peijian, chief designer of Chang'e-1 and chief commander of the satellite system of the Chang'e-2 and Chang'e-3 missions.

The orbiter will carry a lunar rover and other instruments for territory survey, assessment of living conditions and space observations.

"Chang'e-3 will be the first spacecraft with the first-ever China-designed 'legs' The lunar rover is also the first of its kind to be tested in the harsh environment on the moon," he says.

Preparations have also been advanced for the third phase, which aims to bring soil samples back to Earth before 2020.

Both the United States and the former Soviet Union have already sent spacecraft to the moon, but in two different ways. Hu Hao, chief designer of the program's third step, says that scientists have finally decided on how to achieve the goal of returning soil samples from the moon.

According to Hu, China will carry out a "Lunar Orbit Rendezvous" - the mode used by the Apollo Programs - to collect as many samples as possible.

Under the plan, a rocket will be launched from Earth that will put four modules into the lunar orbit. Two modules will land on the moon, while one will scoop up soil. The soil sample will be placed into the ascending module that will blast off from the lunar surface and dock with the orbiting module. The sample will then be transferred from this module to another one that will be jettisoned for Earth re-entry.

Though the US has done this kind of exercise more than four decades ago, the Chinese aerospace scientists have no one to count on, but rely on themselves to solve the major technical problems, Hu says.

China plans to scoop up as much as 2 kilograms of soil samples, but how to do it could also be a tricky problem.

The Automatic Lunar Surface Exploring Vehicle, China's planned Chang'e-3 lunar rover, "a solar powered vehicle designed and built by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). The six-wheeled rover has a designed life of 90 days to explore three square kilometers, a total mass of 120 kg (with a 20kg payload capacity) designed to travel up to 10 kilometers."

"The vehicle is capable of autonomously navigating around obstacles, selecting optimal routes and areas of interest. On-board equipment includes subsurface radar and an optical telescope. An on-board camera can capture images of the lunar surface and a mechanical arm, designed by Hong Kong Polytechnic University, will allow the vehicle to collect samples for analysis. The vehicle can transmit image and data back to the Earth in real-time and all on-board equipment are capable of operating normally during the 14 day-long lunar night."

The former Soviet Union's three missions collected just over 300 grams of lunar soil. The US had better success and returned 381.7 kg of rocks and other material from the moon, thanks to astronauts' participation.

"China's mission is also a robotic one. The probe could land on an unknown spot that could be rocky, and drills could fail to deeply penetrate the lunar surface, just like a mission by the former Soviet Union," he says.

The difficulties also include how to launch the ascending module from the lunar surface and how to conduct rendezvous and docking operations in the lunar orbit.

"China conducted its first spacecraft rendezvous and docking operation in the low-Earth orbit successfully last year. But how to do it in a lunar orbit more than 300,000 km away from Earth is a new challenge," he says.

The space docking last year relied on the global positioning system, which, however, will not be of much use during a lunar orbit rendezvous. The docking ports on the ascending module and the orbiting module need to be redesigned and tested, as the modules are much smaller in size.

Finally, scientists also have to solve the problem to have the probe re-enter the Earth atmosphere safely.

China also lacks experience in how to make the sample-carrying capsule re-enter the Earth atmosphere safely, he says.

While previous re-entries of unmanned and manned spacecraft were made at 7.9 km per second, the return capsule with the lunar soil sample will be hurtling to Earth at, or close to, speeds of 11.2 km per second.

He says that the third phase will launch two orbiters to achieve the goals before 2020. Earlier reports said that the first of these is likely to be launched around 2017.

"We are under pressure as only a short time is left," he says.

Scientists are also stressed due to the public's unrealistic high expectations for success, he says. In recent years, consecutive successes in the space sector have buoyed expectations for more missions.

"People now tend to underestimate risks in space activities. They think it is easy and have little tolerance for failure. But even space powers like the US and Russia have had several failures," he says, adding that more tolerance is essential for the healthy development of China's aerospace industry.

Related Posts, HERE

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Russia outlines spaceflight plans to 2030

Marcia S. Smith

Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, has posted its long term plans for human and robotic spaceflight on its website.  The plan outlines Russia's space goals through 2030.

The document is in Russian, but Anatoly Zak of provides a summary of its key points in English along with his analysis of their feasibility.

Read the article, HERE.

Of lunar rovers and rockets

Wernher von Braun and Jewell Moody, left, started working together in Huntsville in the early 1950s. In 1972 Moody received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, which is the second highest award in the NASA Incentive Awards Program. It is granted for significant achievement or service characterized by unusual initiative or creative ability that clearly demonstrates substantial improvement in engineering, administrative, space flight, or space-related endeavors which contribute to NASA programs.

Press-Register Correspondent/

FAIRHOPE, Alabama -- Jewell Moody, 83, is a builder of things. Not many people can put on their resumè that they built a lunar rover or that they were truly a rocket scientist.

Moody can.

Moody worked with Wernher von Braun and his crew of German scientists starting in 1952. Recently a celebration was held in Huntsville, celebrating what would have been von Braun’s 100th birthday, had he lived — he died in 1977.

Moody remembers von Braun as a very “religious and kind man,” one who took the time to personally send a letter to Moody when his 14-year-old daughter was involved in a life-threatening school bus accident.

Von Braun came to the United States after a devastating war with Nazi Germany. Considering evidence that Germany would not achieve victory in World War II, von Braun began thinking about the postwar era. He participated in the surrender of 500 top German rocket scientists and the rocket information to the Allies.

Before the Allies actually captured the German V-2 rocket complex, von Braun’s team was secured and sent to the United States. In 1950, his team was relocated from Whites Sands Proving Ground, N.M., to Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville.

Moody was about to enter the picture and become a vital part of a historical phase for America.

Moody said von Braun insisted that people pronounce his name as von Brown. “He wanted it to sound more American, I guess,” Moody said.

Read about this Pioneer, HERE.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Chandrayaan-II: ISRO Annual Report

Russian Luna Glob lander with ISRO rover segment of Chandrayaan-2 configuration [ISRO/IKI].
According to the just released India Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Annual Report (PDF) plans still call for India's second lunar mission Chandrayaan-2 to consist of an Orbiter and Rover integrated to a Russian lander.

In February published reports confirmed a goal for launching Chandrayaan-2 in 2013 were push back to at least 2014 (See "Chandrayaan-2 may miss 2013 launch date," February 21).

"It is an Indo-Russian collaborative mission," according to the wide-ranging Report. "The scientific objectives of the mission are to further improve our understanding of the origin and evolution of the Moon using instruments on-board an Orbiter together with in-situ analysis of samples and studies of lunar regolith by both remote and direct analysis.

"India and Russia are cooperating to realize a joint unmanned moon mission with India responsible for launch," the Orbiter and Rover and Russia responsible for the Lander. "Significant progress has been made in the past year," according to the Report, "wherein both sides discussed Orbiter-Lander-Rover configuration" and joint mission operations.

"Indian instruments on both the Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter and Rover have been finalized, and both nations are working to launch Chandrayaan-2 in 2014 using India’s GSLV booster.

Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter Craft (OC)

The Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter configuration has been changed from a 12 to 13k design after additions to the payload capacity of India's indigenous Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), enabled by larger propellant tanks.

The Chandrayaan-2 mission outline was revised to inject the vehicle bus into a lower initial orbit (170 X 16980 km) and higher lift-off weight of 3200 kg. Propulsion system has been adapted to increase fuel capacity.

"Other completed activities" related to Chandrayaan-2, according to the Report, were "finalization of electrical and mechanical interfaces, payload interfaces; preliminary design reviews of bus systems; power, attitude control amd telemetry electronics, tracking and command, RF and data handling systems, thermal control upgrades and propulsion."
Prototype testbed of Chandrayaan-2 lunar
rover, August 2010
Chandrayaan lunar rover

The ISRO Annual Report appears confident tasks related to the development of the Chandrayaan-2 lunar rover that have been completed include configuration of Rover and instrument payload, and Preliminary Design Review of all subsystems on both the Orbiter and Rover. 

A Lunar Terrain Test Facility has been set up at the Maratahalli Campus in Bangalore, an integration and testing facility for spacecraft larger than 4 tons, where testing in micro-gravity and lunar surface simulations will soon begin..

The Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter and Russian-GK Lander Craft (LC) together with the LC and Rover interfaces were finalized this past year in three face-to-face meetings with Russian delegations, "apart from regular mail communication and teleconferences," according to the Annual Report. 

Landing site identification "has been initiated," and future workflow schedules "have been "worked out."

Friday, April 27, 2012

Forty years ago

Diver crews off the carrier U.S.S. Ticonderoga hustle recover Apollo 16 command module soon after splashdown in the Pacific (0°43′S 156°13′W), April 27, 1972. Along with the distinct scarring of their fiery direct-return re-entry John Young, Charlie Duke and Ken Mattingly return, arrive following 11 days in Space with 95.71 kg of lunar samples. During their mission the U.S. House of Representatives directed development of a Space Shuttle transportation system to debut in 1976. The next and last expedition to the lunar surface would take place the following December, and Young commanded the first orbital flight of Space Shuttle Columbia in 1981 [NASA/JSC/ALSJ].

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Our view of the Moon has turned upside down"

Ralf Jaumann, Head of the Planetary Geology
Department, DLR Institute of Planetary Research
Elisabeth Mittelbach

Interview with DLR's Ralf Jaumann

On 19 and 20 April, 170 international experts met to discuss present and future lunar research

The Moon continues to be a fascinating research objective for scientists from around the world. The DLR Institute of Planetary Research collaborated with NASA’s Lunar Science Institute to hold a two-day Lunar Symposium, which took place on 19 and 20 April 2012 at the Adlershof Forum in Berlin. 170 participants, primarily from Europe, the United States, Japan and Russia, exchanged the latest scientific insights gained about Earth’s natural satellite.

In a brief interview, Ralf Jaumann, Head of the Planetary Geology Department at the DLR Institute of Planetary Research, tells us what this European summit meeting of Moon researchers was all about.

Why did DLR and four other partners convene this Lunar Symposium?

A great deal has occurred in the field of lunar research in the last three years. Since the two latest lunar missions, Chandrayaan-1, India’s first Moon mission in 2008, and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) that launched in 2009, our view of the Moon has been turned upside down. Before these missions, we thought that Earth’s celestial companion was extremely dry, but now we are aware that it contains water. Even if it only exists in small amounts, this is quite sensational news. We have found water at the south pole, in what are known as ‘cold sinks’. These are very deep impact craters, into which light never penetrates, and which therefore never experience heating. Furthermore, water can arise on the surface of the Moon as a result of the reaction between hydrogen protons from solar wind and the oxygen in lunar rock. Indeed, thanks to modern research methods, we have also been able to discover water in the rock samples brought back to Earth by the Apollo missions. Consequently, the theory of a ‘dry Moon’ is no longer a tenable one, and it opens up new questions regarding the origin of our satellite. The Moon is particularly fascinating for me because it is the only celestial object that we are able to observe with the naked eye, and also because it has a direct influence in our life, for example through the monthly calendar and the ocean tides.

What were the objectives of this symposium?

Read the full, brief interview, HERE.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Moon as a platform for astrophysics

Darks Ages Radio Explorer (DARE), utilizing the radio-quiet of the lunar farside to explore the earliest period on the cosmic time line, 200 million years between the primordial Big Bang and the emergence of the earliest luminous sources and the structure of the present universe. "The lunar Farside is potentially the only site in the inner solar system for high precision radio cosmology.” [NLSI].
Joel Raupe
and from reports

The Moon has been used as a platform for astrophysics research since laser range reflectors were deployed by three of the six Apollo surface expeditions and also as part of the Soviet two Lunokhod robotic rovers. A lunar laser range reflector (LLRR) has now been orbiting the Moon as part of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission since June 2009.

A welcome added bonus to the LRO mission came after photographing Lunokhod-1. The 1970 mission's French-built LLRR had been lost almost immediately after the rover was parked for the last time in 1970.

Before LRO, with only four arrays bouncing back mere photons from powerful laser pulses from Earth beginning in 1969, the distance to the Moon was measured with increasing accuracy down to a 3 centimeter margin of error. With the addition of the LRO reflector and after definitively locating Lunokhod-1 astrophysicists sharpened  measurements even further, finally with precision enough to rule out the idea that the astounding newly discovered increasing rate of the universe's expansion might be a “local” phenomenon, or a kind of optical illusion.

The Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), together with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has been building on the age old dream of utilizing the “radio quiet” of the Moon’s Farside to peer into the elusive Cosmic Dark Age, the period between the Big Bang and the “Epoch of Reionization,”  when an intergalactic medium composed mostly of neutral gases was “ionized by the emergence of the first luminous sources.”

Continuing with this description supplied by the MIT Haystack Observatory, “The sources may have been stars, galaxies, quasars, or some combination.  By studying  Reionization we can learn a great deal about the process of structure formation in the Universe, and find the evolutionary links between the remarkably smooth matter distribution at early times revealed by (Cosmic Background Radiation) studies and the highly structured universe of galaxies and clusters of galaxies” astronomers can peer more than 10 billion light years into the past.

Exploring that early “Dark Age” will almost certainly require radio telescopes able to detect sources radiating at frequencies red-shifted to wavelengths typical of the noise created by human civilization.

A solution offered by MIT and the NRL suggested an immense antenna farm deployed robotically on the wide floor of Tsiolkovskiy crater. The Dark Age Lunar Interferometer array was discussed in some detail in 2008, when achieving “extended human activity” on the Moon was national space policy.

The NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI) reports two of their collaborating working groups are suggesting putting a radio telescope in orbit around the Moon where it can put a significant part of its time exploring this cosmic Dark Age, the Darks Ages Radio Explorer (DARE). The mission concept is one of two ideas being pursued by the Lunar University Network for Astrophysical Research (LUNAR) “addressing the question of how the Moon can be used as a platform to advance important goals in astrophysics,” according to the NLSI.

The other suggestion by the LUNAR group proposes, “technology development for future lunar surface telescopes, which can help detect and characterize Earth-like planets orbiting nearby starts.

“Both approaches leverage the Moon as a science platform. The lunar Farside is potentially the only site in the inner solar system for high precision radio cosmology.”

DARE will use the highly-redshifted hyperfine 21 cm transition from neutral hydrogen to track the formation of the first luminous objects by their impact on the intergalactic medium during the end of the Dark Ages and during Cosmic Dawn. The science instrument is composed of a low frequency radiometer, a receiver, and a digital spectrometer. The various sub-systems have been constructed and are in the process of system integration. After check-out, the system will be deployed and tested at the Murchison Radio Observatory in Western Australia—one of the most radio quiet locations on the planet.

The Lunar Radio Telescope Array (LRTA) is a concept for a telescope located on the far side of the Moon where it is protected from radio frequency interference (RFI). It would detect magnetically generated radio emissions to provide insights into the interior structure of planets— information likely to be difficult to obtain by other means.

The Apollo 15 laser ranger reflector, 4x the area of
the LLRR arrays deployed by Apollo 11 & 14, is
the most reliable of the 5 units placed on the Moon.
Furthermore, the Lunar Laser Ranging (LLR) component of the LUNAR team has taken a two-fold approach toward testing theories of gravity. Not only are they continuing precise measurements of the Earth-Moon distance via laser ranging, but they are also leading efforts to develop a next-generation retroreflector package that could be emplaced on the Moon by future missions.

While the three retroflector arrays deployed during Apollo era were an incredible success, the reduced return from the arrays over the years has limited advanced investigation into general relativity. At present, there are a number of stations that can access Apollo 15 arrays but not the Apollo 11 and 14 arrays; the new retroreflectors will have signals that can be accessed by a large number of lunar laser ranging ground stations. A next generation retroreflector would improve precision measurements for gravitational physics and for understanding the lunar interior.

As a classical theory, general relativity and quantum mechanics are fundamentally inconsistent; there must be a breakdown at some level of accuracy in general relativity or a problem with quantum mechanics. A much higher ranging accuracy would improve scientific results in testing the theory of general relativity by more than two orders of magnitude. 

This post was derived in part from the NLSI release,
NLSI Teams Conduct Astrophysics Research

Related Posts:
MIT to lead development of new radio telescope
array on lunar farside
(February 19, 2008)
Naval Research Laboratory to design Farside DALI (March 11, 2008)
What better view? (March 26, 2008)
New model of lunar motion from Apollo LLRR (December 27, 2008)
MacDonald LLR defunded by NSF (June 21, 2009)
The continued importance of lunar laser ranging (August 3, 2009)
Laser Ranging and the LRO (August 12, 2009)
Dust accumulation on Apollo laser reflectors may
indicate a surprisingly fast and more dynamic
lunar exosphere
(February 16, 2010)
Long term degradation of optics on the Moon (March 4, 2010)
A Fundamental Point on the Moon (April 13, 2010)
Acquisition Lunokhod-1 (April 27, 2010)

LROC: Orion, Up Close

40 years parked on the Cayley plain northwest of the Descartes formation.
The second of two narrow periapsis orbital passes afforded the LROC team an opportunity to capture this astounding view of the Apollo 16 landing site, orbit 10950, November 6, 2011. LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) mosaic M175179080; field of view above = 145 meters. See the 250 meter FOV in the LROC Featured Image, released on the 40th anniversary of the lift-off from the Moon of the Apollo 16 lunar module ascent stage Orion, April 22, 2012, HERE [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Mark Robinson
Principal Investigator
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera
Arizona State University

The Apollo 16 Lunar Module Orion set down on the lunar surface 40 years ago (21 April 1972) after remaining in a holding pattern for six hours while technical issues with the Command Module Casper were resolved.

Here John Young and Charlie Duke undertook the first and only exploration of a highlands site; their main goal was to sample the enigmatic light plains deposits that geologists had interpreted as remnants of a large scale explosive volcanic eruption.

These proposed volcanic rocks were to be very different than the volcanic mare basalts sampled at previous sites (Apollo missions 11, 12, and 15).

Annotated version of the LROC commemorative Featured Image of the Apollo 16 landing site, full image release 250 meters field of view (M175179080) HERE [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Once Young and Duke started looking at rocks near Orion, it became clear that there were no strange highland volcanic rocks. What they found were breccias, breccias, and more breccias. Why breccias, and how did they form? The Apollo 16 rocks were most similar to those collected by Apollo 14 astronauts Al Shepard and Ed Mitchell. As it turns out, the breccias formed as part of massive flows of ejecta from the Imbrium and Nectaris basin-forming events. Young and Duke were sampling crushed rocks that flowed hundreds of kilometers from their source!

Enlargement of Apollo 16 site, the Lunar Portable Magnetometer (LPM) is in the center of the dark spot below the annotation, the arrow shows Sun glint off an electronics cable, M175179080 [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Similar to the other Apollo missions, the Apollo 16 crew set up science instruments to measure varied aspects of the Moon and its environment. Most science instruments were part of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package, or ALSEP. The Apollo 16 crew also carried with them on their geology traverses the Lunar Portable Magnetometer (LPM) that measured variations in the strength of the Moon's weak magnetic field. Some of the ALSEPs (Apollo missions 12, 15, 16) carried a stationary Lunar Surface Magnetometer (LSM) that provided a point measurement for the landing site as a whole.

On April 22, 1972, minutes before the end of their third and final EVA, John Young took this photograph from his vantage over the lunar rover, parked for the final time so it's color television camera, controlled from Houston, could capture the ascent stage lift off. The LPM is just outside the full-size picture (AS16-116-18716) to the right, and the ALSEP site is in the distance on the left. [NASA]. 
Still image from the televised feed, after nearly 21 hours out on the lunar surface, at Mission Elapsed Time (MET) 175 hours, 31 minutes, 49 seconds, Young and Duke lift off in the Orion ascent stage, headed for rendezvous with Tom Mattingly awaiting them in the Command Module, and home [NASA/Apollo 16 Lunar Surface Journal]. 
The LSMs showed that from site-to-site the magnetic field varied by about a factor of fifty, from a low of 6 gammas (Apollo 15) to a high of 313 gammas (Apollo 16). From the LPM station-to-station measurements within the Apollo 16 traverses, the magnetic low was 121 gammas and high the high was 313 gammas; a factor of nearly three over a distance of 7 km.

The Apollo 16 Lunar Portable Magnetometer in its final configuration beside the parked rover. Note lunar sample rock 60335 is  temporarily perched on the magnetometer for calibration purposes. AS16-116-18721 [NASA].
The magnetometer on Lunar Prospector (1998-99) mapped
what may be the most intense crustal magnetism on the Moon
80 kilometers south of the Apollo 16 landing site, associated
with the bright albedo north of ancient Descartes crater
[Richmond, et al., (2003)].

After setting up the LPM, a final experiment was performed by measuring the magnetic field before and while a small rock was perched on the experiment. This experiment returned two important results: a) the local rocks had a remnant magnetic field so weak that the LPM could not detect it, and b) that the LPM was still working as before launch. These results came from the fact that the astronauts brought the sample (60335) back to Earth, and it was measured by an identical LPM as well as well as even more sensitive instruments.

What did these varied magnetic readings tell us about the Moon? The Moon's magnetic field comes from crustal and mantle materials, has no dipole signature, and is very weak. 

This is a magnetic field very different from the dipole field generated in the Earth's core. Right now scientists do not understand the origin of the lunar magnetic field or its variations. Perhaps the signature of an early, but now extinct, dipole field was captured in ancient lunar rocks as they cooled from a magma ocean. 

Perhaps basin-forming impacts induced local fields in the crust. These Apollo area measurements do tell us that the interior of the Moon is heterogeneous and complicated: the Moon is not a simple body. The two GRAIL spacecraft, Ebb and Flow, that are now in orbit about the Moon will provide gravity measurements that geophysicists will use to deepen our understanding of the lunar interior; the Apollo era magnetic readings will be part of that unfolding story.

Find the LPM and the rest of the ALSEP hardware in the full NAC image, HERE.

Previous LROC Apollo 16 Featured Images:
Apollo 16, Footsteps Under High Sun
How Young is Young?
Apollo 16 First Look
Apollo 16 North Ray crater

Young put the Orion ascent stage into a slow roll so Tom Mattingly could photograph the buckled skin of the spacecraft first noticed after the lunar module was retrieved from the SIVB after trans-lunar injection. The damage was made much worse by the force of its lift-off from the Moon. Back in lunar orbit, the distinctive craters Messier and Messier A can be seen at right. AS16-122-19535 [NASA/JSC].
Previous Low Altitude LROC Image Releases:
Apollo 11
Apollo 12
Apollo 14
Apollo 15
Apollo 17, Shorty crater

A fanciful edit of AS16-107-17435, showing how the Orion descent stage may look forty years after the brief, but productive expedition of Apollo 16.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Astrobotics contracted for polar exploration refinements

Astrobotic "Polaris" lunar rover design and the Icebreaker expedition
Astrobotic Technology has unveiled a NASA contract to determine whether its Polaris lunar rover design can deploy an ice-prospecting payload to the Moon.

The increasing likelihood of ice on the Moon might eventually yield water, oxygen, methane and rocket propellant to dramatically reduce the cost of deep space exploration.

"Astrobotic seeks the immense resources available on the Moon to both accelerate space exploration and improve life on Earth," said Astrobotics president David Gump. "The lunar path is near term. We intend a prospecting mission in 2015."

Astrobotic began development of a lunar excavation robot in 2009 under a series of NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contracts now total $795,000. The new NASA SBIR Phase 3 follow-on contract is designed for refinements for carrying NASA-supplied instruments and a drill to Cabeus or Shoemaker craters at high latitudes in the lunar south and other heavily shadowed places nearer the lunar north pole where hydrogen in the form of water ice appears to have been detected..

Instruments on-board India's Chandrayaan-1 orbiter and its Moon Impact Probe (MIP), and detailed surveys from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) along with the LCROSS impact at Cabeus have directly detected water, hydroxyl compounds, methane, ammonia, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide and other volatiles. These resources went undiscovered during the Apollo expeditions which were concentrated near the Moon's equator.

An important next step is to discover the "ground truth" by directly drilling and measuring these ressources directly to see if they are sufficiently concentrated to be useful.

Propellants and other materials manufactured in place on the Moon could enable spacecraft for long voyages at greatly reduced costs or used for vehicles dispatched to Earth orbit more cheaply than the high cost of launching spacecraft and fuel out of Earth's gravity well. Water and oxygen would also be invaluable for life support, and other elements have immense value for energy, processes, fabrication and extended habitation.

When seeking resources from planetary destinations, the four-day travel time to reach the Moon enables early return on investment compared to more distant targets.

Astrobotic has reserved a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster to send its spacecraft and robotic explorer to the Moon. The Astrobotic payload will deliver a prospecting robot to the lunar surface with technology that autonomously avoids hazards such as boulders and craters. This navigation system was derived from technology developed at Carnegie Mellon University under the direction of Dr. William "Red" Whittaker, Astrobotic's founder. 

Dr. Whittaker won the DARPA Urban Challenge with a driverless car able to autonomously navigate city streets, avoiding other cars while obeying California traffic laws. The ability to detect hazards and automatically select alternative pathways is the core of Astrobotic's automatic lunar landing system.

Astrobotic has totaled $12 million in nine NASA lunar contracts covering issues from simulating lunar gravity on Earth to discovering ways to robotically explore the Moon's ravines and pits. Natural caverns on the Moon should provide vital shelter for both unmanned vehicles and human explorers, from ionizing radiation, a near constant infall of micrometeorites and the extreme temperature swings experienced directly on the lunar surface.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Duke recalls Moon landing on 40th anniversary

General Charles Duke (USAF, Ret.) sat down for an interview with WBTV (Charlotte , NC) in nearby Lancaster, South Carolina. Duke was tenth among the twelve who've walked on the lunar surface, and, as CAPCOM for Apollo 11, he was the first to talk to another human being standing on the Moon [WBTV].
Trent Faris
WBTV Charlotte

LANCASTER, SC (WBTV) - Most kids grow up dreaming of the stars wanting to be an astronaut.

When Charlie Duke was at Lancaster High School in 1950 he just dreamed of following his father's footsteps to be a military officer. After graduating from the Naval Academy, Duke became a pilot in the Air Force.  He was serving as a fighter pilot in Germany when he heard about the first selection of astronauts to go into space.

"I began to say man that ought to be a fun, fun experience, but I wasn't qualified. Then I thought the space program would pass me by," said Duke during a rare sit-down interview with WBTV.

Duke ended up at MIT where his work on Apollo guidance and navigation systems earned him a ticket onto the Apollo program. In the nine Apollo missions to go to the moon, Duke worked on five of them, including Apollo 11.

"Well, Neil Armstrong came to me and said 'How about doing the same thing you did on 10 for us' so I developed those procedures," said Duke.

Everyone knows these famous words: "Houston, Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed." Those words came from Armstrong after the first successful landing on the lunar surface in 1969. 

The voice you hear next on the transmission from mission control - was Duke. "Roger that Tranquility. We copy you on ground. You've got a bunch of guys about to turn blue, we're breathing again," Duke was recorded saying.

Duke was the back-up Lunar module pilot for Apollo 13 and 17, but Apollo 16 was his mission to the moon.
Read the article, HERE.
Related Posts:
Forty years ago: 'a big ol' Navy salute'

The Gap in U.S. manned spaceflight

The drop tests of the Enterprise Space Shuttle test platform, beginning in 1977 and four years before Columbia finally launched, were dreary teasers of a program long on promises and short on funding. The original manned spaceflight 'gap,' according to David S. F. Portree, colors the end of the Shuttle program with unnecessary dread. The "Gap" of the present day is hardly a gap at all in comparison. The needless dread attaches itself to an all-too-human inability to fully prepare one's self for the "wholly new" [NASA].
David S. F. Portree

July 1979 was the busiest month for American spaceflight I could remember, and it was a mixed bag. On the one hand, Skylab fell from orbit, pelting Australia with debris. Where the heck was the Shuttle, which was supposed to have saved it? That was bad. On the other hand, Voyager 2 zipped through the Jupiter system, returning more breathtaking (and freaking weird) views of the planet’s intricate zones and bands and crazy moons. (Voyager 1 had flown by Jupiter earlier in the year, making new data from Voyager 2 eagerly anticipated.) That was terrific.

July 1979 also marked four years since Americans had flown in space, three years since Viking 1 had landed on Mars and found no recognizable life, and 10 years since the first men had walked on the moon. The Shuttle was late, I couldn’t get a date, and the first Star Trek movie wouldn’t be out until Christmas.

Much has been made of the current “gap in U.S. spaceflight.” Some even bemoan “the end of U.S. spaceflight.” Poppycock. You call this a gap? I’ll tell you about a gap. I was in 6th grade when the last crew left Skylab (February 1974). A year and a half later Apollo-Soyuz flew. Then, nothing – no Americans in space at all – until April 1981, when I was a sophomore in college. On the plus side, somewhere in there I got a date.

There was no Internet then and no cable TV. Unless a mission was happening, space news was tough to come by. Heck, even if a mission was happening, it was hard to find out what was going on. NASA published infrequent mission updates on paper, and wasn’t always good about sending them via snailmail to space-cadet teenagers. I remember specific issues of magazines that contained a lot of space news because that made them unusual. They were like freak rain squalls in the space cadet desert.

Being able to remember the Apollo landings made the 1970s gap worse. Even though I had been about to start 2nd grade when Neil and Buzz cavorted on the Sea of Tranquillity, I had sensed that we were at the beginning of something magnificent. I lacked the words to express how terribly wrong it seemed when, just three and a half years later, Apollo 17 returned to Earth and the moon missions ended.

During The Great 1970s Gap, humans continued to fly in space. Soviet cosmonauts worked on board Salyut space stations, but their program was deeply mysterious. They claimed that they had never intended to send men to the moon. We had, they said, spent a lot of money and risked astronaut lives to race ourselves. Many spaceflight opponents repeated that propaganda on the 10th anniversary of Apollo 11.

Skylab’s untimely demise happened 11 days before the 10th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, spoiling the party. Not that anyone threw a party to celebrate Apollo 11′s 10th anniversary; there was nothing like Yuri’s Night in 1979. It seemed that no one mentioned Apollo 11 without also mentioning Skylab, as if the latter had diminished the epic significance of the former. They didn’t mention Voyager 2 much on the Apollo 11 anniversary, as I recall, even though it was inside the Jupiter moon system when Skylab fell. After all, the Voyagers were just machines operated on behalf of goofy scientists (this was before Cosmos and planetary scientist Carl Sagan’s rise to pop culture icon).

Forty years ago: 'a big ol' Navy salute.'

Joy - The second of two 'mid-air' salutes. (Detail from AS16-113-18340, April 21, 1972, Apollo 16, EVA 1) by Cmdr. John Young answering Charlie Duke's request that he to pose for a photograph with two jumps, accompanying each with 'a big ole Navy salute.' [NASA/JSC/ALSJ].
From the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal: 120:25:42 "John Young jumps off the ground and salutes for this superb tourist picture. He is off the ground about 1.45 seconds which, in the lunar gravity field, means that he launched himself at a velocity of about 1.17 m/s and reached a maximum height of 0.42 m. Although the suit and backpack weigh as much as he does, his total weight is only about 65 pounds (30 kg) and, to get this height, he only had to bend his knees slightly and then push up with his legs. In the background, we can see the UV astronomy camera, the flag, the LM, the Rover with the TV camera watching John, and Stone Mountain. Journal Contributor Joe Cannaday notes that high-point of John's first jump was at a time close to 120:25:49 and the second was almost exactly three seconds later."

After trading places for Young to capture Duke's 'Air Force salute' Houston passes along 'good news.' The U.S. House of Representatives has authorized the Space Shuttle program. 

Young, who will command the first Space Shuttle mission 9 years later, answers, "Beautiful. Wonderful. The country needs that Shuttle mighty bad. You'll see."

From the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal: "John became the Chief of the Astronaut Office in 1975 and, later, appointed himself to command the first Shuttle flight. STS-1 was 36-orbit mission launched on April 12, 1981, the twentieth anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's Vostok flight. The pilot - and only other crewmember - on STS-1 was Robert Crippen.".
Landing site of Apollo 16, between North Ray and South Ray craters, northwest of the Descartes Formation ("Stone Mountain, at lower right) in the nearside lunar highlands. Full 52 meter resolution detail from LROC Wide Angle Camera monochrome (604nm) observation M177535094C, LRO orbit 11299, December 3, 2011; angle of incidence 69.4° from 38.2 kilometers altitude [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].

Forty years ago

Lunar module pilot Charlie Duke captured this view, through Apollo 16 commander John Young's window, April 21, 1972 (UT). To the left is Stone Mountain, northwest extreme of the Descartes Formation, where the astronauts would gather samples during their second of three EVA's. On the right is the bright ejecta blanket of South Ray crater, easy to spot through modest amateur telescopes from Earth, and a relatively recent impact that had conveniently excavated some of the oldest rocks in the lunar highlands. AS16-113-18300 [NASA/JSC].

Follow the Mission at the Apollo 16 Lunar Surface Journal

The latest released and indexed LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) image of the Apollo 16 landing site was swept up in local morning lighting (incidence angle = 69.64°) not very different than the conditions encountered by Young and Duke forty years ago. The Orion descent stage, the astronaut's dusty boot-trails churned through optically immature regolith just exposed by the descent stage engine and the lunar rover parked just to the east are all visible. LROC NAC M177535538L, orbit 11299, December 3, 2011 from 38.6 kilometers [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
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Friday, April 20, 2012

Zuber shares lunar morphology insights at Harvard

Daniel J. Kramer and Fatima Mirza
The Harvard Crimson

Geophysicist Maria T. Zuber applied her knowledge of Earth science to one of the world’s most universally studied astronomical bodies—the moon—at this year’s annual Neekeyfar Lecture on Math and Science, hosted Tuesday, April 17, 2012 by the (Harvard University) Undergraduate Council’s Student Advisory Board on Science.

“Basically every human who has lived on the rocky earth has observed the moon,” she said. “So it’s not surprising that when humans first stepped on the moon it was viewed as one of the greatest achievements, if not the greatest achievement, ever accomplished by humanity, at least from a technological standpoint.”

Zuber, E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics at MIT, focused on her work on planetary phenomena in the moon’s interior and lunar surface modeling at the talk, titled “Journey to the Center of the Moon.”

Zuber, who is also the department head of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, is the first female department head in the history of MIT and also the first woman to be selected by NASA to head a major planetary spacecraft mission.

Zuber related her experiences with lunar geophysics to the NASA Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, which launched for the moon in September 2011.

In particular, Zuber explained the details of how to go from research projects in the lab to an applied astronomical endeavor.

Zuber explained to the audience, which ranged from curious undergraduates to astrophysics concentrators and professors, that the moon’s surface consists of two types of rock. One type, anorthosite, or white rock, represents the areas of the moon’s surface that were once covered by the lunar magma ocean.

The other type is basalt, or black rock, whose formation is indicative of lava flows from volcanic melting in the moon’s distant past. Zuber mentioned that the discovery of the once-present magma ocean is considered one of the greatest fruits of the Apollo Mission.

Early in the Earth’s history, Zuber said, it was hit by a Mars-sized object that struck at a sharp angle, tearing off a piece of the Earth’s mantle and sending it into the atmosphere.

Over time, the piece of the mantle folded into a disk and then condensed into the modern-day moon.

The moon also has a rich history of “impact events” or being hit by giant rocks, as indicated by the numerous craters scattered across its surface.

The biggest crater, or impact basin, is on the side of the moon not visible from Earth. This impact basin is two-thirds the width of the United States and is 8 km deep.

MIT geophysicist Dr. Maria T. Zuber, principal investigator for the GRAIL mission, shares the stage with Apollo 11 lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin, Steve Squyres, and James T. Belllingham at the MIT+150 Symposia Earth, Air, Ocean and Space: The Future of Exploration, April 26, 2011 [Flickr].
One still-unanswered question Zuber discussed was why the near side of the moon is topologically different from the far side. One theory is that the differences are caused by internal lunar activity.

“If you’ve sent 109 space crafts that have essentially mapped the surface and brought back samples, and you haven’t found the answer, then you’re probably not looking in the right place,” she said.

This internal activity could include phase changes in matter, causing fluctuations in energy flow and distribution, as well as “moon quakes” that occur more often when the moon is closest to Earth.

In her research, Zuber works to study the moon’s gravitational field by increasing the resolution of imaging on the moon.

“The results are really transformative when you can improve measurements by three orders of magnitude or better,” said Zuber.

However, she feels her most profound contribution to society stems from her ability to engage the minds of the future. As part of her GRAIL mission, she incorporated cameras on her spacecraft specifically devoted to educating students around the country. The students use online software to monitor the location of the spacecraft in orbit and look at images.

“I want to teach kids physics is not only interesting but also fun,” said Zuber.

According to Deana Ste. Marie, Executive Assistant to the Dean of Science and an advisor to SABS, said that this year, students were able to spend time with Zuber in breakout sessions throughout the day, which proved to be “engaging and rewarding.”

Attendee and one of the event’s organizers, Alexander L. Jaffe ’15, who is also a member of SABS, enjoyed hearing about brand new topics from such a renowned expert.

“The subjects covered were some that I had no experience with before,” he said. “To hear about them, especially from a first hand research project, was fascinating.”