LRO zooms in on Apollo 15 once again

By Phil Plait | March 8, 2012 7:00 am

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been circling our nearest neighbor since 2009, taking amazing high-resolution images of the Moon’s surface. When it was first proposed, I remember wondering if it would get good shots of the Apollo sites… and boy howdy, did it. Then, in 2011, NASA decided to lower the mapping orbit from its usual 50 km (30 miles) down to an incredible 25 km (15 miles) — an orbit they can’t sustain, since variations in the density of the Moon would soon crash the spacecraft. But for those short periods, they got amazing images of the Apollo landing sites, including this stunner from Apollo 15:

[Click to onesmallstepenate.]

LRO has looked at the Apollo 15 site before (see the links at the LRO page for more), but never this clearly! The lander descent stage is labeled (the ascent stage took Dave Scott and James Irwin back up to the Command Module, which then brought them home), and is pretty clear (the shadow’s cool too). To the upper left is the ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package, containing scientific instruments), and the the right is the rover (LRV). And connecting them all, you can clearly see the astronauts’ bootprints! Arrows point out the fainter ones.

[Cripes, the news is coming so fast I can hardly keep up: in between writing this post and putting it up, the folks at LRO released an image from the Apollo 11 landing site too, and it’s also just flippin’ amazing.]

That’s not the first time we’ve seen those boot tracks, but still. It gives me chills: human beings walked on the Moon.

And we’ll do it again, I just know it. Soon, I hope. But it will happen.

Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University


Related Posts:

LRO spots Apollo 12 footsteps
Apollo 17, then and now
LRO spots Apollo landing sites in high res
Apollo 16 site snapped from orbit
One Giant Leap seen again
APOLLO LANDING SITES IMAGED BY LRO!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Pretty pictures
MORE ABOUT: Apollo 15, LRO

Comments (76)

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  1. Jeff

    The deniers have got to have an explanation for this. I wonder what it is?

  2. That’s a very impressive looking sound stage! :P

  3. sav

    FAKE!!!1111oneone

    Kidding, of course it’s there. Everyone knows the government went to the moon in the -80s- to plant all that stuff :P

  4. F16 guy

    Just a thought:

    I’d be curious to know if it were possible to duplicate this photograph while here on earth?

    If so, the ‘moon landing deniers’ would only have another example of how it was all ‘faked.’

  5. thetentman
  6. The Mutt

    I’ve always wondered what happened to the ascent stages after they undocked from the Command Module. Are they in Lunar orbit?

  7. Nigel Depledge

    The Mutt (4) said:

    I’ve always wondered what happened to the ascent stages after they undocked from the Command Module. Are they in Lunar orbit?

    According to Wikipedia, the ascent stage of the Apollo 10 LEM (Snoopy) is still in solar orbit. The ascent stages of the LEMs from Apollos 11 (Eagle) and 16 (Orion) were left in lunar orbit but eventually crashed into the moon. The ascent stages of the LEMs from Apollos 12(Intrepid), 14 (Antares), 15 (Falcon) and 17 (Challenger) were deliberately crashed into the moon.

    The LEM ascent stages from Apollos 5, 9 and 13 re-entered Earth’s atmosphere.

    So, no, there are no LEM ascent stages still in lunar orbit.

  8. Awesome! I wonder why they parked the LRV so far away when they left…reminds me how far the rental drop zones are from the terminals :D

  9. Algerine

    Couldn’t they get parking closer to the lunar lander? Dang handicapped spaces….

  10. Tony

    Curious, what is the distance between the ALSEP and the rover? Just wondering how much ground they covered.

    And why did they park the rover so far, or what appears to be far, from the Descent Stage?

  11. Bob

    @Tony
    they parked it that distance to take pictures of the ascent. (panning the cam)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMBcLg0DkLA

  12. Douglas Troy

    As far as the people who firmly believe the moon landings were faked are concerned, even if you were to put them all in a rocket, fly them to the moon, land them there and show them the hardware sitting there on the ground, they’d just look you square in the face and say “You all knew we were coming, so you must have come and planted all this stuff to make it look like we had actually come here already”.

    Nothing, no matter what you say or do, will ever convince those people that it actually happened.

  13. Matt T

    How come there aren’t any stars, huh? I call photoshop!!11!!

    onesmallstepenate
    Not onegiantleapenate (given that it gets bigger)?

    And, of course, the obligatory: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_M50Fd3gXvM

  14. Randy

    It looks to me like the fainter track indicated by the arrows are those of the LRV. The darker tracks appear to be the boot prints. Amazing image. I love how all the tracks are so preserved.

  15. Chris

    Really? You expect me to believe the astronauts put down these giant arrows to show where their tracks were? Seems like someone has been doing digital manipulation. And if they can put arrows in, why not the tracks and ships as well?

    PS – I was being sarcastic.

  16. db26

    We can take pictures of the sun, 93M miles away clearer than this….is this the best we can do in this HD era from only 15 miles?

  17. Chris

    @16 db26
    Remember those are foot print tracks just a foot or so wide, or about 4 x 10^-7 of the diameter of the moon. Meanwhile the SDO has cameras with 4096 x 4096 pixels. which can resolve only 2 x 10^-4 of the diameter of the sun or about 340 km. So we are doing pretty good.

  18. Chris

    OT:

    Phil, any way you could write a post up dealing with the invisible children charity and your take on it? This is a sketchy company that is getting a lot of recognition and even Oprah has hopped on. A lot of people read your blog and respect you and you may be able to stop people from wasting money on a shady charity. Whil Wheaton got through to a lot of people already.

  19. amphiox

    Remember that when you’re taking a picture of the sun, your camera is also getting a rather larger density of photons to play with….

  20. Marc JX8P

    Fantastic pictures! Though even with all the photographs and videos, you can’t imagine how it must have been to walk and drive around there on a truly alien world. Truly breathtaking when you think about it.

  21. Kevin

    Anybody see the Apollo 11 flag in the second picture Phil linked? NASA’s GSFC website says the flag was knocked over by the ascent stage, but I don’t know that it was captured on video.

    In the Apollo 11 picture, there’s a dark spot just northwest of the lander, in the center of the bootprint path to the camera, that is consistent with the location of the flag from videos I’ve seen of the astronauts setting it up. But I can’t tell if it’s just a shadow of a standing flag or the actual knocked-over flag.

  22. Dwight

    When the lunar colonies are finally built, I hope we remember to preserve all of the landing sites and make museums or something.

  23. Calli Arcale

    I just got done reading Al Worden’s fantastic autobiography “Falling To Earth”. He didn’t make these bootprints; he was doing intensive science from lunar orbit while his buddies were making these prints. It was a fascinating read, and the painful episode with the postal covers isn’t until the very end, so you get to really enjoy his descriptions of the lunar flight. One thing that really interested me was how *serious* these men all got about the science of the mission. They weren’t just a bunch of fighter jocks. They were fighter jocks, but they were also extremely dedicated to getting the most they could out of this mission. It was a great read, and I highly recommend it.

  24. Matt

    Jeff…I’m pretty sure the deniers’ explanation for this is “photoshop” or “hollywood effects studio”. If they think we can fake a moon landing, surely we can fake a few satellite photos.

    It’s sad that there’s nothing man-made on the moon that could be viewed through a backyard telescope. THAT would have to shut them up. Even the retroreflectors left behind are explained away as “crystal formations” or “natural phenomenon” or “dropped there by unmanned craft”.

  25. Steve D

    I think I see Obama’s birth certificate. Some of those footprints were made by the other JFK assassins, too.

  26. David C

    I didn’t know Al Worden wrote an autobiography. I used to work for him at BFGoodrich Avionics Systems. Thanks for the tip Calli, I’ll have to look for it at the library.

    Does anyone know approximately what the landing track is in relation to the photo for Apollo 11? I’d like to get an idea exactly what craters Armstrong was dodging on final descent.

  27. Autumn

    I think it was boulders Armstrong was trying to avoid. I was going to say that it might be the rocks in the top of the photo, but I was looking at the wrong picture.

  28. David C

    Oh, that’s right, it was a boulder field. Heavens, it’s been a long time.

  29. Conan

    db26 said:
    > We can take pictures of the sun, 93M miles away clearer than this….is this the best we can do in this HD era from only 15 miles?

    These pictures show around 25cm per-pixel. That’s *amazing* definition from 15km above the surface.

    I don’t know what you mean about “clearer” pictures of the Sun. The Sun is freaking huge, so what look like fine details are actually hundreds of kilometres across.

  30. We will do it again, though not soon. Perhaps in a couple decades someone will get there though. Recently I’ve gone from feeling pretty confident we’d see people on Mars during my life, now I just hope we at least get back to the moon in my life (another thirty some years baring stray bullets and such I’d guess).

  31. David H

    This is where my tax money goes? 40 years of rent for a sound stage just so they can take occasional pictures from the rafters? Why don’t they spend it worthwhile projects, like finding Kennedy’s true assassin, or more effectively covering up the Roswell/Area 51 connections?

  32. Messier Tidy Upper

    When will we be back to see this in person and up close from the lunar ground level I wonder? Have those people even been born yet and are they Westerners or Chinese or even Indian?

    Kennedy era Americans went so far, worked so hard, risked so bravely and intelligently to make that one giant leap possible and make it happen.
    Only to see future generations throw it all away, see humanity collectively fall back on their backsides and go no further and not even as far again.
    What a disgrace and an embarrassment to the astronauts and rocket scientists and country that the USA has done so little since and wasted its human space exploration high ground advantage so completely over the intervening decades that today it is stuck hitch-hiking and paying for that priviledge of going up on Russian rockets.

    It saddens me that in 2012 we’re getting images via a robot probe of the Apollo moon landing sites formback in theperiod 1969-1972 rather than being able to visit them and have people stuidy them upclose and in person in situ. :-(

    I guess on thepositive side it keeps the very few remaining Moon Hoax Constpiracy theorists silent and pretty much disproves that once and for all. Right? Are there any Moon Hoax believers left? Surely now not many if any at all?

  33. Sam H

    @21 Kevin: I NOTICED THIS IN THE APOLLO 12 IMAGE – it even pointed out a small, roughly-squarish dark spot and identified as the flag’s shadow. I had thought I read on this same blog that the actual flags would have had their nylon dissolved by solar radiation long ago or something?? As well: the tiny dark spot about one descent stage-diameter just above it looks about the same size and shape as whatever is pointed out in the Apollo 12 image – another flag?? And if those flags are still standing there after all these decades – how? And for how much longer??

  34. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (33) said:

    Kennedy era Americans went so far, worked so hard, risked so bravely and intelligently to make that one giant leap possible and make it happen.
    Only to see future generations throw it all away, see humanity collectively fall back on their backsides and go no further and not even as far again.

    Well, it is kinda sad, but there are reasons it worked out that way.

    First, I think by calling them Kennedy-era, you are doing Lyndon Johnson a disservice. As Kennedy’s VP and a huge fan of space, it was he who proposed that Kennedy issue his challenge to the nation, and it was he who picked up the reins and kept Gemini and Apollo alive (along with a great many administrators and scientists and engineers and pilots at NASA and their contractors) after Kennedy’s assassination.

    Second, Apollo (and to some extent, Gemini before it) was sold to the American public as a programme to beat the “Commies” to the moon. The space race arose out of cold-war paranoia, rather than some nobler motive. Thus, once the race was won, the US public largely lost interest. There is a particularly telling scence in the film Apollo 13 where the crew are carrying out a TV broadcast from about 2/3 of the way to the moon (shortly before the accident), and none of the TV networks are screening the broadcast.

  35. Rajan

    I was reading the Wikipedia page for the moon hoax, when I came across this:

    “Sibrel was punched in the face by Buzz Aldrin after Sibrel confronted Aldrin with his theories while accusing the former astronaut of being “a coward, and a liar, and a thief”.”

    Hohohoho! I didn’t know this. Good on you, Buzz. One more reason why I want to shake that hand of yours some day :)

  36. Nigel Depledge

    @ Rajan (36) –
    Oh, yes, that was all over the internets several years ago.

    I suspect that it will still be on YouTube – Sibrel had brought a camera crew with him and they got the whole incident. Good old Dr Rendezvous.

  37. amphiox

    Kennedy era Americans went so far, worked so hard, risked so bravely and intelligently to make that one giant leap possible and make it happen.
    Only to see future generations throw it all away, see humanity collectively fall back on their backsides and go no further and not even as far again.

    I don’t really see the failure to return to the moon after Apollo as either sad or shortsighted. Rather it was the inevitable, rational, and indeed, correct, course of action as a result of what Apollo actually found on the moon – ie absolutely nothing of sufficient value to the society at the time to justify or even allow for a sustained program of return visits.

    If Columbus had, on landing in the New World, found it to be a waterless, lifeless, airless barren wasteland, people would not have returned, and that would have been the right decision. Even if Columbus had found this wasteland covered in bubbling pools of crude oil (analogous to finding Helium-3 on the moon), people would not have come back. And that would have been the right decision, because the society of the time did not have the sufficient technological means to effectively exploit or use the resource in an economically viable way.

    We will return to space if and only if doing so is an economically advantageous proposal, if the program of sustained colonization and exploration will pay for itself. The outlay of political resources only occurs in spurts. This has and always will be the nature of political motivation, and things that rely solely on political motivation never last, whether it is the building of pyramids, or space exploration.

  38. @ ^ amphiox : Hang on, the pyramids have lasted -there’re still there today! ;-)

    As you might expect, I take a different view to you Moon wise. I think there are many good reasons for going there, some of them economic as well as scientific, political and philosphical.

    @35. Nigel Depledge :

    I think by calling them Kennedy-era, you are doing Lyndon Johnson a disservice. As Kennedy’s VP and a huge fan of space, it was he who proposed that Kennedy issue his challenge to the nation, and it was he who picked up the reins and kept Gemini and Apollo alive (along with a great many administrators and scientists and engineers and pilots at NASA and their contractors) after Kennedy’s assassination.

    Fair enough. I kinda consider LBJ to be part of the “Kennedy era”, a contemporary and part of that whole twenty or so year spell from the late 50’s post Sputnik to early 70’s when Apollo 17 visited the Lunar surface for the last (human) time – so far. However, you make a good point there. I also think of it as sort of the Von Braun era as well as he was the towering if sometimes problematic and ethically ambiguous figure of the time – but also supported and rivalled by many others such as Sergei Korolev and Gene Kranz.

  39. @ 40. amphiox :

    NB. Click on my name here & in the comment above for a list of 25 good and wide ranging reasons why others – and myself – think we should go to the Moon.

    In the long run I think we – Humanity – have to go there and beyond it or perish. Not just because its who we are and what we do but also because of the reasons Stephen Hawking notes in the quote at the end of this comment.

    I am also convinced that if America and our Western civilisation fails to colonise the Moon and advance, then we will fall behind and lose control of our future to others who will.

    @35. Nigel Depledge :

    Second, Apollo (and to some extent, Gemini before it) was sold to the American public as a programme to beat the “Commies” to the moon. The space race arose out of cold-war paranoia, rather than some nobler motive. Thus, once the race was won, the US public largely lost interest. There is a particularly telling scence in the film Apollo 13 where the crew are carrying out a TV broadcast from about 2/3 of the way to the moon (shortly before the accident), and none of the TV networks are screening the broadcast.

    Well that was certainly a big element of it – and, yes, I remember that scene too. However, I’d also say there was more than just that and otherreasons suchas the desire to explore and do great things and learn generally were also important factors and motivations as well.

    ****

    “Many people have asked me why I am taking this flight. I am doing it for many reasons. First of all, I believe that life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers. I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space.”
    – Stephen Hawking, 8th January 2007 – interviewed before taking a zero-gravity flight.

  40. db26

    It just appears poor to me. We should be able to focus on a gnats balls from a hundred miles by now…

  41. David C

    @42 Messier Tidy Upper – I understand what Hawking is saying but I don’t agree with him. I don’t believe a human race that manages to wipe itself out deserves a second chance somewhere else. Besides, the ones that mess it up would be the ones who would decide that they are so important that they deserve to be saved. This is it, there is no lifeboat, let’s slow down and steer around the icebergs.

  42. Miles Archer

    Can we get the Apollo 11 landing site protected status – like a world heritage site? I wouldn’t want some (near) future visitors taking pieces of it home.

    I’m being serious. It wouldn’t surprise me for the Chinese to be on the moon within a decade.

  43. db26

    I agree with#44, but would take it a step further. Humans are parasites; raping and destroying everything in their path. There is no reason to believe that any new habitable world wouldn’t also be destroyed by us as well.

  44. #43 db26:
    Assuming that you’re actually serious, and not a troll… Do you actually have the slightest comprehension of optics??? The minimum angular resolution of any camera is inversely proportional to the aperture of the optics; the bigger the lens or mirror, the smaller angle can be resolved. The minimum linear resolution obviously depends on the angular resolution and the distance away.
    So let’s examine your ridiculous comment. Let’s assume that the size of “a gnat’s balls” ( if gnats had them! ) is, say, a tenth of a millimetre, or 0.0001 metre. An object of that size, at a distance of 100 miles or 160 km, subtends an angle of 0.0001 / 160000 = 6.25E-10 radian.
    Now the angular resolution of an optical system is given by
    theta = 1.22 x lambda / d,
    where lambda is the wavelength of light, and d the diameter of the optics.
    Rearranging the equation, we see that the size of optics required to achieve a given angular resolution, theta, is
    d = 1.22 x lambda / theta.
    The wavelength of visible light is roughly 5E-7 metres. Putting that figure into the equation, with the value of theta which I calculated above, we get
    d = 1.22 x 5E-7 / 6.25E-10 = 976 metres.
    So to, as you put it, “focus on a gnat’s balls from 100 miles” would in fact require a camera nearly a kilometre across!!!!
    How big do you think the camera on LRO is, exactly???
    No matter how perfect we can make the optics, the resolution of an image is limited by the laws of physics!

  45. Messier Tidy Upper

    @46. db26 :

    I agree with#44, but would take it a step further. Humans are parasites; raping and destroying everything in their path. There is no reason to believe that any new habitable world wouldn’t also be destroyed by us as well.

    Speak for yourself mate! ;-)

    For starters we’re actually omnivores not parasites.

    For seconds “raping” everything in our paths – no. That’s just not true. Not even asuming you meant it as metaphorical hyperbole.

    Humanity – some of it anyhow – has gone to great lengths to protect and preserve some wilderness areas. Ever heard of national parks and heritage sites? The work many biologists & conservationists do and have done in the past to keep endangered plant and animal species alive? All the people who work for the environment and for others. Those who work in museums and other historical sites and so many more such groups like those who keep indigenous trafditions alive and those who keep their local communities safer and nicer by community work and so on.

    It’s true that there are many humans who also do bad things. That human nature has a dark side and aspects to it. But there’s a heck of a lot more to Humanity than your overly gloomy, judgemental one-sided spouting off there suggests. All members of species homo sapiens have the potential for both good and evil actions our nature is a lot more complicated and less negative that make it sound.

    @44. David C :

    @42 Messier Tidy Upper – I understand what Hawking is saying but I don’t agree with him. I don’t believe a human race that manages to wipe itself out deserves a second chance somewhere else.

    Well I disagree with you on that. (Shrug.) A species that has produces its share of people like Galileo, Da Vinci, Einstein, Picasso, Mozart , Shakespeare, Asimov, Sagan, so many more. That creates and works wonders and discovers and understands and treats others – human and non-human alike – with such kindnesses as well as, yes, such cruelties deserves to survive I think. We are wonderful and have created marvels a s well as terrors in a way no other species we know of has ever done.

    Besides, the ones that mess it up would be the ones who would decide that they are so important that they deserve to be saved.

    Not necessarily.

    This is it, there is no lifeboat, let’s slow down and steer around the icebergs.

    You are also falsely assuming we can’t do both simultanously ie.work towards exploing the cosmos and spreading outwards and also improving life on Earth as well.

  46. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (42) said:

    Well that was certainly a big element of it – and, yes, I remember that scene too. However, I’d also say there was more than just that and otherreasons suchas the desire to explore and do great things and learn generally were also important factors and motivations as well.

    I don’t deny that these things were motivation for many of the people involved in Apollo, and for a portion of the public. But, IIUC, a larger proportion of the public support for Apollo was so the US could beat the USSR in the race to the moon and hence show its technological superiority to the world. Ergo, once the race was won, a great deal of the public support for Apollo dried up in less than a year.

  47. Nigel Depledge

    Comment deleted

  48. I personally do believe that the Apollo missions did go to the moon but I dont think Neil Armstrong did ,
    This picture is rubbish, they have spy sats that can read newspapers from orbit but they cant get a clear picture with no atmosphere >?
    Can we have a flyby of Apollo 1 1 please?
    And why do those shadows look photoshopped ?
    And why are the shadows from the mound in the North facing one way and the shadows from the lander the other ? just saying…..
    probably is real but why cant they just give us some nice non-blurry pictures ?
    Or am I asking too much ?

  49. !AstralProjectile

    It’s Newt’s Moon Party
    In Outer space
    with R2D2
    playing the bass.

    (Apologies to Matt Groening)

    Personally I think 3He-2H (Edited to add: Dang! I can’t get the superscript tags to work.) reactors will be fine for spaceships (higher efficency and proportionatly smaller cooling equipment, etc), but I doubt they will ever catch on for terrestrial applcations.

  50. Nigel Depledge

    Freddy Aker (51) said:

    I personally do believe that the Apollo missions did go to the moon but I dont think Neil Armstrong did ,

    Eh?

    How come?

    And why do you choose to accept the success of Apollo and yet reject the role of its most famous participant?

    Who do you think was the first out of Apollo 11 Lunar Module Eagle?

    This picture is rubbish, they have spy sats that can read newspapers from orbit but they cant get a clear picture with no atmosphere >?

    Several things are wrong here:
    1. Unless you can substantiate your claim, there is no reason to believe that anyone has a spy satellite that can resolve newsprint from orbit (LEO being perhaps 200 km or so).
    2. That said, from what I have read of spy satellites, they do have greater resolving power than LRO. How is that? Simple – they are much larger. The resolution of a telescope depends on the size of its primary mirror. It’s a hundred times easier to loft a great big telescope into LEO than it is to send one to the moon.
    3. Even so, had the mission parameters included designing LRO to take high-quality pictures of the Apollo landing sites, LRO could have been designed to do so. It wasn’t, because its mission objectives don’t include detailed imaging of the Apollo landing sites. The images that we get are simply a bonus. LRO’s primary mission is to map the moon in unprecedented detail, which it is doing very well indeed. If you want even finer detail, maybe you should think about what amount of memory that would require – a doubling of spatial resolution would require at least 4 times as much memory. Then there’s the physical size of the telescope that would be needed to obtain the resoution you seem to be demanding. The mission would have been budgeted at ten times its actual cost to be able to achieve that, and as a result probably would have been cancelled before they even started building it.

    Can we have a flyby of Apollo 1 1 please?

    I think they already did this. Search the BA’s archives.

    And why do those shadows look photoshopped ?

    It’s possible that the contrast has been increased to make the fine detail show up more clearly. This would make very bright and very dark objects stand out and perhaps look artificial. I don’t know they did this, it’s just my guess, but it’s one possible explanation.

    And why are the shadows from the mound in the North facing one way and the shadows from the lander the other ? just saying…..

    Simple. That “mound” isn’t a mound, it’s a depression (probably an old crater).

    probably is real but why cant they just give us some nice non-blurry pictures ?

    They did. Back in 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1972, they gave us amazingly detail close-up shots of the Apollo landing sites. Some people have chosen to dispute the reality of the pictures.

    Or am I asking too much ?

    Yes.

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