The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is a NASA robotic spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon in an eccentric polar mapping orbit. Data collected by LRO has been described as essential for planning NASA’s future human and robotic missions to the Moon. Its detailed mapping program is identifying safe landing sites, locating potential resources on the Moon, characterizing the radiation environment, and demonstrating new technologies.

The probe has made a 3-D map of the Moon’s surface and has provided high resolution images of Apollo landing sites. The first images from LRO were published on July 2, 2009, showing a region in the lunar highlands south of Mare Nubium (Sea of Clouds).

Launched on June 18, 2009, in conjunction with the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), as the vanguard of NASA’s Lunar Precursor Robotic Program, LRO was the first United States mission to the Moon in over ten years. LRO and LCROSS were launched as part of the United States’s Vision for Space Exploration program.

Artist’s illustration of the LRO

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Tycho Central Peak

Far side of the Moon

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Near side of the Moon

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North Pole

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South Pole

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Earthrise over Compton Crater

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Apollo 11 landing site

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Apollo 17 landing site

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NASA Has Captured ‘Actual Sound’ in Space and It’s Honestly Terrifying

In space, no one can hear you scream, the saying goes, because sound waves can’t travel through the vacuum that extends across most of the universe. However, space can be downright noisy in the right conditions, such as the hot gas surrounding the immense black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster, according to NASA. 

The agency recently tweeted an eerie audio clip that represents actual sound waves rippling through the gas and plasma in this cluster, which is 250 million light years from Earth. “The misconception that there is no sound in space originates because most space is a ~vacuum, providing no way for sound waves to travel,” the agency tweeted. “A galaxy cluster has so much gas that we’ve picked up actual sound. Here it’s amplified, and mixed with other data, to hear a black hole!”

Though the acoustic signals generated by the black hole were first identified in 2003 in data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, they have never been brought into the hearing range of the human ear—until now.

“In some ways, this sonification is unlike any other done before… because it revisits the actual sound waves discovered in data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory,” NASA said in a statement. “In this new sonification of Perseus, the sound waves astronomers previously identified were extracted and made audible for the first time.”

As it turns out, the sound waves in their natural environment are a whopping 57 octaves below the note middle C, making this black hole a real cosmic baritone. To make these tremors audible to humans, scientists raised their frequencies quadrillions of times (one quadrillion is a million billions, for perspective).

The effect is so chilling that it would seem totally at home in a Halloween playlist. But it is just one of many trippy earworms from the space sonification genre, in which astronomical data of all kinds is converted into sound waves. To that end, if you’re looking for some more off-Earth bops, check out these real recordings from Mars, the songs of gravitational waves, and the resonances of planetary systems.

Space debris Australia: Piece of SpaceX capsule crashes to Earth in field

The debris from space, in the field where it was found.
Image caption,The piece of space debris. Picture: Dr Brad Tucker

When Mick Miners, a farmer in New South Wales, Australia, first saw a large black object sticking out of the ground in a remote part of his land, he thought it was a dead tree.

But on closer inspection – and verification from experts – he learned it had fallen from space.

The Australian Space Agency (ASA) later said it came from a SpaceX capsule.

Experts described the discovery as “rare” and “exciting” – but said such events may become more common.

The object landed on 9 July in a large area of fields, but was not discovered by Mr Miners until several weeks later.

Two other pieces were later found nearby, and the ASA asked anyone who came across further items to contact a debris hotline set up by SpaceX.

Dr Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the Australian National University, was called to examine the object.

He is often called to similar discoveries – the vast majority of which turn out not to be space debris.

“This has been super exciting to see this all up close, I’ve never seen a piece of space junk fall like this.”

Don Pollacco, a professor of astrophysics at the UK’s Warwick University, agreed that it was very rare for space debris to hit land.

While objects fall from space to Earth every day, the vast majority land in the oceans covering most of the planet, he said.

What’s more, the only recorded case of a person being hit was Lottie Williams, who was unhurt when a piece of space debris landed on her shoulder in Oklahoma, US, in 1997.

Other incidents include damage to buildings in Ivory Coast in 2020, from pieces of a Chinese rocket.

However, discoveries on land may become more common – especially as the number of rockets sent to space has hugely increased in recent years.

The Sun is also moving into a cycle of being more active, Prof Pollacco added, a knock-on effect of which may be more debris falling to Earth.

Perhaps more worrying is a study from Canada’s University of British Columbia, published in July, which found there was a 10% chance of one or more people being killed by space debris in the next decade.

But Prof Pollacco still says the chance of an individual being hurt is “almost zero”, adding: “I don’t think people need to be frightened, the likelihood of them getting hit is unbelievably small.”

Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist from the Australian National University, who first realised the timing and location of the debris falling coincided with a SpaceX spacecraft which re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere at 7am on 9 July, 20 months after its launchlaunch in November 2020.

Tucker believes the debris came from the unpressurised trunk of the SpaceX capsule, which is critical to take off but dumped when returning to earth.

Tucker also explained why the space debris didn’t create a massive crater when it hit the ground.

When the capsule hit the Earth’s atmosphere, it lost most of its speed because all of the energy was absorbed in the atmosphere, causing it to break apart.

“Like if you throw a ball through a window, the shards of glass don’t necessarily travel at the speed of the ball. They travel slower because of the transfer of energy.”

Dr Sara Webb, an astrophysicist at Swinburne University, explains it’s also possible the debris could have bounced around and bounced further away from where it had initially landed.

Out-of-Control Chinese Rocket May Land on Your Head Sunday

Early predictions show “over 88 percent of the world’s population” lives in the potential landing zone.

Future Publishing / Getty

A used Chinese rocket booster is set to fall out of orbit and crash into Earth sometime in the next few days. The nonprofit Aerospace Corporation’s debris tracking experts predict that the rocket—a 10-story, 23-ton core stage of a Long March 5B mission launched July 24 to deliver the Wentian lab module to the country’s Tiangong space station—will careen to Earth on July 31 at 3:52 a.m. Eastern Time, plus or minus 22 hours.

While the chance of the rocket hitting a populated community is slim, it’s still possible. “Due to the uncontrolled nature of its descent, there is a non-zero probability of the surviving debris landing in a populated area—over 88 percent of the world’s population lives under the reentry’s potential debris footprint,” the Aerospace Corporation said in a statement. About 60 to 80 percent of the booster’s mass will burn up in the atmosphere, but that still leaves a hefty, fiery object ready to slam into the ground.

This is the third time that a Long March 5B booster has fallen back to Earth uncontrollably and raised alarms. In May 2020, a booster crashed into an uninhabited plot of land on the African West Coast.

The second Chinese booster incident, in May 2021, was more infamous. For several days, the space community had a harder time predicting and assessing where it would land. The world waited with bated breath for several hours until it was finally confirmed the booster landed in the Indian Ocean near the Maldives. NASA, among others, expressed severe irritation with the Chinese handling of the booster. (NASA did not respond to requests from The Daily Beast for immediate comment.)

China’s response over its uncontrolled boosters in the past has always ranged from complete silence to accusing the U.S. and others of scaremongering folks (which they’ve done again in response to this latest instance). Most core stages, reports Gizmodo, aren’t supposed to reach orbit, and their trajectories are instead designed to guide them back to landing in the ocean or a very remote location on land. China, however, has consistently elected to send its Long March 5B core booster into orbit and let it tumble back to Earth willy-nilly.

Debris trackers around the world will have a better sense in the next few days of where the booster may land Sunday, but it will still be tough to predict an exact location ahead of time. Sunday morning will be a tense time for a large swath of the world.

There is a better chance of that rocket landing on my head than me winning the lottery.

Mysterious Metal Balls Rain Down From Sky Onto Multiple Villages in India

Multiple villages in India were pelted by mysterious metal balls that rained down from the sky in what is likely a case of space junk falling back down to Earth. According to a local media report, the odd incident unfolded over the course of two days last week and impacted at least seven neighboring communities across the Indian state of Gujarat. The rather sizeable spheres, which can be seen ‘showcased’ in the video above, weighed approximately 12 pounds each and measured around one-and-a-half feet in diameter.

While there were no injuries from the bizarre ‘rainfall,’ there was one unfortunate victim in the form of a lamb that just happened to be grazing in the wrong place at the wrong time. “There was a huge sound from the sky and blinding light,” recalled a witness to the creature’s demise, “I could not see anything but almost the next instant, there was a loud noise and I saw that a metal piece had fallen on a lamb. It was hot and killed the lamb instantly.” As one might imagine, the falling balls caused something of a stir in the various villages and left many residents understandably wondering about the origins of the weird spheres.

Fortunately, it would seem that the mystery surrounding the baffling balls may wind up being short-lived as authorities enlisted experts from the Indian government to examine the spheres and they determined that they were likely space junk. Specifically, it was noted that the objects were “made of high-density metal alloys” of the kind used in rocket launches. Narrowing down the nature of the balls even further, a scientist from the Indian space agency indicated that the spheres appear to have been fuel storage tanks. An astronomer who tracks space debris was even able to identify where, exactly, the objects likely originated, pointing to a Chinese rocket that was expected to reenter the atmosphere at around the time of the ‘rainfall.’

Take a Look Inside a Luxury Balloon That Serves Martinis at the Edge of Space

Space Perspective’s planned $125,000-a-seat ride is heavy on the ambiance, if gazing down on Earth isn’t thrilling enough.

Space Perspective has revealed the cabin design for its upcoming Spaceship Neptune—a balloon-held capsule that, for the lofty price of $125,000, will take passengers to the edge of space.

Liftoffs aren’t slated to begin until late 2024, but newly released conceptual images of the Spaceship Neptune passenger cabin offer an early glimpse of what the experience could look like. But at $125,000 per seat, this is probably as close as any of us will ever get to actually stepping inside this thing.

The climate-controlled, pressurized interior cabin will be held aloft by a balloon as it rises to the stratosphere. Reaching a height of 20 miles (30 kilometers), passengers will have a 360-degree view of their surroundings, from which they’ll be able to see the curvature of Earth. The passengers will be able to see 450 miles (724 km) in any direction, as well as the blackness of space. By comparison, passenger jets fly at heights reaching 7.9 miles (12.7 km).

But as for actually being in space, well, that’s not going to happen. The Kármán Line—the internationally recognized boundary of space—is located 62 miles (100 km) above sea level, far from the maximum height obtainable by the disingenuously named Spaceship Neptune. That said, a refreshing cocktail or two will console you when you finally realize that you spent all that money to not go to space.

Still, the experience promises to be a good one, and at a fraction of the cost of going to bona fide space. A quick, suborbital trip on a Virgin Galactic spaceplane costs $450,000 while Axiom Space charges $55 million for a trek to low Earth orbit and a stint on the International Space Station.

For the interior design, Space Perspective aimed for a look that’s sleek and dynamic, as opposed to the “white, utilitarian environments you find in other spacecraft,” Jane Poynter, the founder, co-CEO and chief experience officer for Space Perspective, said in an emailed press release. And in keeping with its environmentally friendly message, the company plans to build the interior from sustainable and recycled materials.

Other features of the capsule include seats that can be reconfigured for intimate one-on-one dates, a spacious and unobstructed interior section (care for a dance?), floor lamps, and customizable mood lighting that includes low red LED lights to ensure that passengers “will absorb the dramatic sights of witnessing dawn, planet Earth, and stars above in space—while easily navigating their way around the Space Lounge,” according to the press release. An overhead “donut” scrolling display will convey important information as the journey progresses, and if the view isn’t satisfactory enough, passengers can peer into space or at Earth using a telescope.

Space Perspective has sold 600 tickets thus far, and the first year of service is already completely booked (in case you’re wondering, the company has approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to conduct these flights). The company is taking reservations for 2025 and beyond, but a refundable $1,000 deposit is required. The company says passengers can book the entire capsule for themselves, if they want.

Gizmodo.com

First Private Astronaut Mission Docks at ISS

The SpaceX Dragon Capsule containing the first all-private crew, Axiom Mission 1 astronauts Michael Lopez-Alegria, Larry Connor, Eytan Stibbe, and Mark Pathy, arrived at the International Space Station at 8:29 a.m. EDT Saturday, April 9. The spacecraft and station were flying 260 miles above the Atlantic Ocean during the docking procedure, which was delayed by 45 minutes due to troubleshooting the capsule’s centerline camera. The Axiom crew will join the Expedition 67 crew members already onboard the ISS, and spend more than a week in the orbiting laboratory.

The first all-private team of astronauts ever launched to the International Space Station (ISS) were welcomed aboard the orbiting research platform on Saturday to begin a weeklong science mission hailed as a milestone in commercial spaceflight.

Their arrival came about 21 hours after the four-man team representing Houston-based startup company Axiom Space Inc lifted off on Friday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, riding atop a SpaceX-launched Falcon 9 rocket.

The Crew Dragon capsule lofted into orbit by the rocket docked with the ISS at about 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT) on Saturday as the two space vehicles were flying roughly 250 miles (420 km) above the central Atlantic Ocean, a live webcast of the coupling from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration showed.

The final approach was delayed for about 45 minutes by a technical glitch with a video feed used to monitor the capsule’s rendezvous with the ISS, but it otherwise proceeded smoothly.


April 9 (Reuters) – The first all-private team of astronauts ever launched to the International Space Station (ISS) were welcomed aboard the orbiting research platform on Saturday to begin a weeklong science mission hailed as a milestone in commercial spaceflight.

Their arrival came about 21 hours after the four-man team representing Houston-based startup company Axiom Space Inc lifted off on Friday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, riding atop a SpaceX-launched Falcon 9 rocket.Report ad

The Crew Dragon capsule lofted into orbit by the rocket docked with the ISS at about 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT) on Saturday as the two space vehicles were flying roughly 250 miles (420 km) above the central Atlantic Ocean, a live webcast of the coupling from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration showed.

The final approach was delayed for about 45 minutes by a technical glitch with a video feed used to monitor the capsule’s rendezvous with the ISS, but it otherwise proceeded smoothly.Report ad

The multinational Axiom team, planning to spend eight days in orbit, was led by retired Spanish-born NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, 63, the company’s vice president for business development.

His second-in-command was Larry Connor, a real estate and technology entrepreneur and aerobatics aviator from Ohio designated as the mission pilot. Connor is in his 70s, but the company did not provide his precise age.

Rounding out the Ax-1 crew were investor-philanthropist and former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe, 64, and Canadian businessman and philanthropist Mark Pathy, 52, both serving as mission specialists.

The Soviet Lunar Lander that Never Landed on the Moon

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The Soviet lunar program was covered up, forgotten after failing to put a man on the moon.

Soviet scientists were well ahead of their American counterparts in moon exploration before President John F. Kennedy pronounced the U.S. would put a man there first. The Soviets had already landed the probe Luna 2 on the surface of the moon in 1959 and had an orbiting satellite in 1966.

The Soviets developed a similar multi-step approach to NASA, involving a module used to orbit the moon and one for landing. Their version was decidedly less complex and lighter to account for inferior rockets. This photo show the LK “Lunar Craft” lander, which has a similar pod-over-landing gear structure but numerous key differences.

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All the activities done by two astronauts is done by one. To make the craft lighter, the LK only fits the one cosmonaut, who was supposed to peer through a tiny window on the side of the craft to land it. After landing the vehicle the pod separates from the landing gear, as with the Apollo Lunar Module, but uses the same engine for landing as it does for take off as another weight savings.

The L2 Lunar Orbit Module designed to transport the LK into orbit around the moon was similarly stripped down. There’s no internal connection between the two craft so the cosmonaut had to space walk outside to get into the LK and head towards the surface. When the LK rejoined the L2 for the return trip home, the now likely exhausted cosmonaut would then climb back out into the abyss of space. The LK would then be thrown away.

Soviet Lunar Orbiter

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Soviet Lunar Lander (LK)

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There were numerous political, scientific and financial reasons why the Soviets didn’t make it to the moon first, including a space agency with split priorities and therefore not single-mindedly dedicated to this goal. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon first on July 20, 1969, besting the Russians, who were still planning to visit the moon in the upcoming years.

They had the equipment, but they didn’t have the rockets.

Getting to the moon requires launching a command module and a lander. Both are heavy objects and require massive amounts of thrust to get into orbit. The Soviet’s planned to use their N-1 rocket, but two failed launches in 1971 and 1972 destroyed dummy landing and control modules, as well as the rockets themselves, and led to the program being shelved for lack of a proper launch vehicle.

The LK was sent into space for numerous test missions. The first two unmanned flights were successful tests of the vehicle through a simulated orbit. The third flight ended when the N-1 rocket crashed. The fourth test in 1971 was a success, but years later the decaying test module started to return to Earth with a trajectory that would put it over the skies of Australia.

NASA explains in a report on the Soviet space program how they had to convince the Australians it wasn’t a nuclear satellite:

To allay fears of a nuclear catastrophe, representatives of the Soviet Foreign Ministry in Australia admitted that Cosmos 434 was an “experiment unit of a lunar cabin,” or lunar lander

Eventually, the program was deemed too expensive and unnecessary in light of the NASA success. The Soviets moved onto building space labs, successfully, and the remaining parts of the lunar program were destroyed or dispersed, including this amazing collection of parts hidden in the back of the Moscow Aviation Institute.

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American Lunar Orbiter top, Soviet Orbiter bottom

Soviet Lander ascending from the surface of the Moon, artist graphic.

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LK Lander and Apollo LM (drawn to scale). Manned Moon landers

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Soviet left, American right

Apollo moon tracks

Some interesting photos showing tracks from the moon landings.  It is amazing that there were six manned landings from 1969 to 1972 when state of the art Apollo NASA computers were less powerful than today’s smart phones.

(CBS/AP)

WASHINGTON – A robotic spaceship circling the moon has snapped the sharpest photos ever of the tracks and trash left by Apollo astronauts in visits from 1969 to 1972.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter got close enough to see the astronauts’ path when they walked on the moon. The photos also show ruts left by a moon buggy and even backpacks pitched out of the lunar landers before the U.S. visitors returned to Earth.

Tracks left by astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell on both Apollo 14 moon walks (Credit: NASA)

The photos were taken two weeks ago from 13 to 15 miles above the moon’s surface and show the landing sites for Apollo 12, 14 and 17. These photos offer a sharper look that more clearly distinguishes man-made objects from moon rocks.
The closest images are of the Apollo 17 site from 1972, the moon visit.

“The images look very spectacular, as you can see for yourself,” Mark Robinson, an Arizona State University, Tempe scientist, who is the principal investigator of LRO’s camera, told reporters at a news briefing.

Tracks made in 1969 by Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean, the third and fourth humans to walk on the moon (Credit: NASA)

“From a science standpoint, [the images] are important for two reasons,” Robinson said. “They tell us something about the photometric properties of the moon – why are they darker? Scientists are working to investigate that question. In a more practical sense, it allows us to find the exact spot where samples were collected.”

However, he was less optimistic about finding remains of the flags left behind by various Apollo moon missions, saying that the banners would have fared poorly against a combination of the moon’s extremes of hot and cold, not to mention constant ultraviolet radiation.

“If the flags are still there, they’re probably in pretty rough shape,” he said.  The pictures were taken two weeks ago and show the landing sites for Apollo 12, 14 and 17. The closest images are of the 1972 Apollo 17 site, the last moon mission.

Paths left by astronauts and moon buggies in 1972 Apollo 17 mission (AP/NASA)

Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan wrote in an email to The Associated Press that the photo gives him a chance to revisit those days, “this time with a little nostalgia and disappointment. Nostalgia because those special days are fondly etched in my memory and disappointment because it looks like now we will not be going back within the days I have left on this planet.”

Two years ago, images from the same spacecraft from 30 and 60 miles out showed fuzzier images. But this year the orbiter dipped down to take about 300,000 more close-ups. The trails left by the astronauts are clear, but the places where backpacks were discarded, Apollo 17’s moon buggy, and the bottom parts of the three lunar landers are blurry.

“You have to really look at it for a long time to figure out what you’re looking at,” Robinson said. For example, when it comes to the moon buggy he said, “if you squint really hard you can resolve the wheels and that the wheels are slightly turned to the left.”

At first, scientists thought they had a bit of a mystery: They saw more stuff than they expected. It turned out to be packing material and an insulation blanket, Robinson said.

After 40 years there does not seem to be much moon dust covering the manmade trails. It probably will take about 10 million to 100 million years for dust to cover them, Robinson said.

The photos were released a few days after the debut of the new fictional movie “Apollo 18” and before Thursday’s planned launch of NASA’s twin robotic spaceships to explore the moon’s gravity.