Technicians begin checkout and processing of NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, in the high bay at the Astrotech processing facility in Titusville, Fla. The spacecraft was built by engineers at Goddard Space Flight Center, where it recently completed two months of tests in a thermal vacuum chamber. The orbiter will carry seven instruments to provide scientists with detailed maps of the lunar surface and enhance our understanding of the moon's topography, lighting conditions, mineralogical composition and natural resources. Information gleaned from LRO will be used to select safe landing sites, determine locations for future lunar outposts and help mitigate radiation dangers to astronauts. The polar regions of the moon are the main focus of the mission because continuous access to sunlight may be possible and water ice may exist in permanently shadowed areas of the poles. Accompanying LRO on its journey to the moon will be the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, a mission that will impact the lunar surface in its search for water ice. Launch of LRO/LCROSS is targeted for April 24.
Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann