June 17, 2009

NASA ready for first lunar global survey

The U.S. space agency says when it launches the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, it will be en route to producing the first global survey of the lunar surface.

The terrain on the far side of the moon is quite different from that of the near side of the moon, said David Paige, principal investigator at UCLA for the Diviner Lunar Radiometer that will survey the surface from an altitude of 31 miles. The more we learn about the moon, the better scientific questions we can pose and the better locations we can find for future lunar landings for robotic and human explorers.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said a focus of the mission, scheduled for a Thursday launch, will be the moon's polar regions, which are relatively unexplored and extremely cold.

We don't really know what we will find when we explore the polar regions thoroughly, Paige said.

Diviner will, for the first time, characterize the entire thermal environment of the moon, as well as producing maps showing the moon's composition and how rocky it is.

With this instrument's unprecedented capabilities, we are looking forward to helping not only rewrite the moon's history, but its future, said Wayne Hartford, project manager for the Diviner instrument at the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is the first mission in NASA's plan to return to the moon and then to travel to Mars and beyond.