[robotic voice] 3, 2, 1...
[Dana Hurley] I think that it's in human nature to explore.
[Rich Vondrak] Understanding the moon better, will help us to understand our neighbors in the solar system.
[Ashwin Vasavada] We're exploring the solar system here and not just the moon.
[Cathy Peddie] The moon is the natural next step
in our exploration of our own universe.
[Craig Tooley] The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
is as its namesake says, a reconnaissance mission to the moon.
Our job is to take a suite of very powerful scientific instruments and make
an atlas of the entire moon, in some place in very great detail.
Topography, mountain heights, minerology, temperatures,
abundances of resources, including potentially the intriguing possibility that there's water
at the moon. We put all this together into a dataset by flying low over the moon for a year,
and this is the data that the people designing the systems, picking the sites,
need to take us back to the moon.
[Rich Vondrak] Well, we learned much about the moon from the Apollo Program,
but now we want to return to the moon for a more intensive study.
We want to be able to go back to the moon so that we can live there for longer
periods and work on the moon, so we need a mission
that can help us find the best places to go
and determine how to go back there safely.
[muffled] "it's a nice place to land"
[Cathy Peddie] We know that, you know, Neil Armstrong and some of the others had
a difficult time finding a safe landing site.
The didn't see it until they got there. But now with our instruments, we'll be able to
tell people ahead of time, "look, don't go there."
[Rich Vondrak] LRO will have a laser system that will give
us a high resolution topographic map of the moon.
It als has high resolution cameras that will identify
objects that are only a foot or two in size so that we know where there are
no large boulders that could be a risk to astronauts.
[Craig Tooley] So our job is to literally complete the job of mapping the moon, do it at high resolutions, and then
enable the designers of the human systems
the atlas they need to pick the safe places to go
the beneficial places to go and where it's most fruitful to go.
[Cathy Peddie] In addition to the safe landing sites, LRO is looking for potential resources, and now
why are we doing that? Because it's really hard to carry all your supplies
with you, I mean, you can do it, but really spend a lot of
not only fuel, but cargo space. So it'd be really nice to go to a place that
already has the resources, whether it's water ice to have water,
or potential minerals that we could use as raw materials,
to make into things that we would need.
[Rich Vondrak] We think the most interesting parts of the moon may be polar
regions of the moon because there could be resources there.
And so we're going to study intesively the polar regions
[Craig Tooley] From the Apollo era we chose to go for good reasons, because
it was literally the easiest, to go to the equatorial regions, and
stay a very short time, and it was a very ambitious program but
when you look at where would like to go and
stay for awhile on the moon, you begin to realize that
probably the poles are the most interesting place.
[John Keller] Access to solar power, continuously, that may be
the first and most important reason over, you know, the near term
And then the possibility of resources being there.
Those may take much longer time
before we're able to really exploit those, but the solar power
is something that we can exploit right away.
[Rich Vondrak] The second big resource on the moon, may be water ice.
There's evidence from early missions, that in dark places at the
poles, there may be water at the surface or below.
the surface in the form of ice crystals.
If it is abundant, astronauts could use
this for both human consumption
and as a source of rocket fuel.
LRO will measure for the first time, this very energetic component
of the space radiation environment, in order to see whether it
is going to be a problems or not.
[Craig Tooley] It was one thing to go for a handful of days in Apollo, and go when
we knew that the Sun was quiet, or you hope the Sun stayed quiet,
and you took the risk, you calculated the risk of cancer and
such and you made a short mission. If you're going to live there longer, you need to
understand it enough to go, "Here's what I need to do to protect myself."
[Cathy Peddie] One of the things that we're looking for in the LRO mission is
how the high radiation environment effects
our ability to explore. So if we bring cameras or
communication devices, you know, how will they be impacted by
the cosmic radiation? We need to protect our equipment as well as ourselves.
[music ramps up]
[Craig Tooley] When we look back at what we did in LRO and
we look at what followed, I think we'll see a profound impact. We'll see
this as really being the small first step
where we have human beings permanently off this planet.
Beginning to the move out of the solar system, starting with the moon, as that pans out
I think we'll be a small part of a profound
development that when history looks back they'll say, "This time we went back to the moon. This time
we stayed, and then we moved on from there."
[electric guitar riffs]