What Is LRO?

LRO stands for Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. It is a robotic spacecraft that is orbiting, or flying around, the moon. LRO will take pictures of the moon's surface. It will help NASA learn more about the moon. LRO launched in June 2009.
A drawing of the LRO spacecraft in orbit

While orbiting the moon, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will take pictures and gather information about the moon's surface. Image Credit: NASA

How Will LRO Study the Moon?
LRO has six different science instruments. The orbiter will gather more information about the moon than NASA has ever known. NASA will use all this to plan and build a moon outpost someday.

One goal of LRO is to find safe landing sites on the moon. LRO will look for natural resources that people living on the moon could use. It will measure the temperatures on the moon to find the best place for humans to build a lunar base.

LRO will study the moon's high and low places. NASA will use that information to make 3-D maps of the moon. The maps will help NASA choose places for future spacecraft to land on the moon.

A telescope on LRO will measure how much radiation is on the moon. What is learned could help NASA find ways to protect astronauts and keep them safe while on the moon.

Another piece of equipment will study the moon's soil, which is called regolith. The tool will also look for water ice near the moon's surface. Water, in the form of ice, on the moon could be used for many things. Water can provide oxygen for astronauts on the moon to breathe. Water can also provide hydrogen to be used as rocket fuel. A camera on LRO will take pictures to help find landing sites.

NASA hopes all these instruments will give the agency the best information ever gathered about the moon.

A crater on the moon

The Crater Daedalus is on the far side of the moon. The picture was taken during the first moon-landing mission, Apollo 11, in 1969. Image Credit: NASA

When Did LRO Launch?
LRO launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in June 2009. It rode on an Atlas V (5) rocket. The trip to the moon took about four days. LRO is now orbiting the moon. During each orbit, the spacecraft flies over the moon's north and south poles. When a spacecraft does this, the orbit is called a polar orbit. LRO will fly about 31 miles, or 50 kilometers, above the moon's surface. The spacecraft will orbit the moon for at least one year.

Why Is NASA Studying the Moon?
LRO is NASA's first step toward returning humans to the moon. NASA and scientists around the world want to study the moon. What they learn will help NASA get ready to send astronauts there and to build a lunar outpost. Astronauts can explore the moon to learn more about the history of Earth, the solar system and the universe. Astronauts could also learn things on the moon that could help life on Earth.

Another reason to study the moon is to help people go to other places like Mars and beyond. By going to the moon first, NASA can test much of what will be needed for future missions. Using the moon as a practice ground will help make future missions safer.

A drawing of LCROSS on its way to the moon

The LCROSS spacecraft will impact the moon near one of its poles to search for evidence of water. Image Credit: NASA

LCROSS is a satellite that launched with LRO. LCROSS will crash into the moon and search for water.

Shortly after launch, LRO and LCROSS separated. They flew to the moon on two separate paths.

LCROSS is made up of two parts. When it is time for LCROSS to work, it will fly close to the moon and the two parts will separate. The first part will hit the moon near one of its poles. The impact will make a crater about one-third the size of a football field. The crater will be about as deep as the deep end of a swimming pool.

The impact will also make dust and ice on the moon's surface fly out of the crater. Scientists guess that the amount of stuff that will fly out of the crater could fill 10 school buses.

The second part of LCROSS will then fly through the dust and ice and study them. The second piece will also hit the moon. It will land several miles away from the first piece.

LRO and LCROSS are part of NASA's Lunar Precursor Robotic Program. The program manages robotic missions that are leading the way back to the moon.

More about LRO
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LRO/LCROSS Animation →
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