Transcript of LRO Scouts for Safe Landing Sites
Narrator: One of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's primary objectives is to scout safe landing sites for future manned and robotic missions to the moon. To do so, LRO's suite of instruments work collectively to build a detailed picture of the surface. Let's take a look at how this is done.
The first thing we want to assess is the topography of the lunar terrain. LRO uses an instrument called LOLA that bounces laser pulses off of the surface. When the pulses return to LOLA their timing, intensity, and spread reveal the lunar landscape. The resulting map shows steep slopes, rough terrain, and gives a general idea of what areas might be level enough to provide safe landing sites, shown here in green.
LRO's next step is to create a temperature map of the surface using an instrument called Diviner. Temperatures change more slowly in areas with lots of loose material, so by looking at thermal maps, we can eliminate areas for landing that may have a dangerous abundance of rocks. The regions in yellow represent places where the thermal signatures indicate they are unsafe landing sites.
Lastly, we want to double-check and refine our map even further. LRO does this with a set of cameras that make detailed pictures of the surface. Looking closely at these images, we can actually pick out individual boulders and craters. These will clearly be hazardous places to land, so we've labeled them red and removed them from our safe areas.
At this point, any sites that are left green have been checked and re-checked to be level, smooth, and free from hazards. Based on LRO's scouting, we would consider these safe locations to land.
Let's take one more look at our process.
It should be noted that while it is essential to find safe landing sites, a safe place to land is not necessarily an interesting place to land. When it comes time to pick the best landing sites, many other factors and measurements will be taken into account.
As astronauts make their descent toward the lunar surface late in the next decade they can thank NASA's small robot scout LRO for showing them the safest approach.
[music slowly fades]