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Photos of Apollo Moon Landing Sites From Space!

By-Omkar Singh,Owner Science Relief

2009-2011 Photos of Apollo Lunar Landers

Was the moon landing a hoax? If not, why don't we havephotos of Apollo moon landings from space? In fact, we do! Below are photos of all the Apollo spacecraft on the moon, plus astronaut footprints, instruments, and the lunar rover and flag at Apollo 17's landing site.

India's space program photographed tracks of Apollo 15's astronauts in September '09. Japan's Selene/Kaguya lunar probe imaged the Apollo 15 and17 sites in 2008 with a stereoscopic 3D camera, including the "halo" of brighter material kicked up by Apollo 15's exhaust plume. China's Chang'e 2 lunar orbiter picked up traces of Apollo equipment on the surface, according to chief scientist Yan Jun. Also, it turns out that the Clementine spacecraft snapped a distant picture of the Apollo 15 landing site as far back as 1994. But those photos can't match the resolution of the new Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's camera!
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images on this page are from NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

UPDATE Aug 6: See my liveblog, photos, and videos from the Mars Curiosity landing!

Update Aug 25: RIP, Neil Armstrong, American hero, incredibly humble and nice guy, and a Trekkie who truly went where no man has gone before.

Apollo 11 Landing Site

Photos of Lander and Equipment 2009, 2012

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped the Apollo 11 landing site on its early approach in July 2009, but we were disappointed -- it was as far away as a typical Earth satellite photo (see below) so there wasn't any detail. Recent passes have brought the LRO nearer.

Lunar lander photo of Apollo 11 landing site from LRO
Apollo 11 site, released Mar 7, 2012

See NASA's write-up of this photo for explanations of labeled instruments and photos of them taken by astronauts at the site. Click for a larger view. Notice the dark lines -- those are the astronauts' tracks.

Below are photos of the Apollo 11 site taken during earlier passes of the LRO. The lower left one is pretty tiny (notice the shadow), but it was our first photo of equipment on the Moon since the astronauts left!

Apollo 11 moon landing site photo from satellite LRO
Apollo 11 site imaged July 2009, NASA/LRO

That November 2009 photo interests me. My parents, who watched all the coverage, talked about how the astronauts had to change course in the final moments before landing to avoid a rocky debris field, which added to the tension. That crater is probably what they were dodging. It's too small to be visible from Earth.

Below is that same November 2009 photo, zoomed on the landing gear of the Eagle lunar module. The sun is directly behind the orbiter's camera, so the metal glare is intense:

Closeup photo of Apollo 11 Lander
There's a few more photos of Tranquility Base from the LRO's November 2011 pass, but let's move onto photos of the other Apollo landing sites.

[Related article from BBC: LRO photos suggest flags at all Apollo websites still standing, EXCEPT Apollo 11]

Why Can't We See Moon Landers From Earth?

We've Been Spoiled by Google Maps' Aerial Photos...

Detailed Google Maps photos are taken by low-flying aircraft flying at 800-1500 feet, not satellites. At left is an actual satellite photo of the tip of Manhattan in New York City. Hey, where's the cars? Prove to me they exist!

Now consider: The moon is 238,857 miles away. Satellite photos are taken of Earth by satellites orbiting the Earth, 280 miles up. We couldn't even get a view this good until we put a satellite in orbit above the Moon!

I've marked the Brooklyn Bridge for scale. It's 26m wide. Lunar landing modules are 9 meters across (and that includes the legs.)

Notice the white glare off concrete roofs. The moon lander's flat metal platform reflects even more glare at noon.

Apollo 12 Moon Landing Site Photos

November 2009 and March 2012 Low-Altitude Images

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's mission is to map parts of the Moon we don't know much about, so it doesn't photograph old lunar lander sites very often. It's passed over the site of Apollo 12's lunar lander in November 2009 and March 2012. Surveyor 3, an older unmanned spacecraft used to scout the moon before the manned program, sits near the Intrepid lunar module's landing site.

Left: lunar lander's legs. Below: March 2012 photo of Apollo 12 landing siteClick for full-sized images.

Apollo 12 landing site photo from space

September 2011 LRO photo of the Apollo 12 landing site shows a similar amount of detail, but the different angle of the sun brings out different features:

Photograph of Apollo 12 lunar lander from LRO

Below: November 2009 photos of Apollo 12 Lunar Lander and environs (click for full-size):

Photo: Apollo 12 Lunar Lander from SpacePhoto: Apollo 12 Moon Landing from Space

ALSEP are a set of scientific instruments left by the astronauts. Faint dark lines show their tracks. Again, this was noon, so no shadows and a very bright glare off metal.
[UPDATE: here's some September 2009 photos of Intrepid and Surveyor 3 spacecraft.]

Video: Apollo 12 Landing Site Explored

2009 photo annotated with ground-level photos from Apollo 12 mission


Charles A Murray

014311235XA Man on the Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts 
Andrew Chaikin
0262516101Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight 
David A. Mindell
1588342735Moon Lander: How We Developed the Apollo Lunar Module (Smithsonian History of Aviation and Spaceflight)
Thomas J. Kelly


Can Telescopes See Apollo Landing Sites?

Apollo 17 Landing Site Photographed By Hubble Space Telescope

Hubble Space Telescope Photo of Moon Landing Site
Source: NASA: Hubble Shoots the Moon

Have you got a pair of binoculars? Try reading a book with them. The printing isn't even visible, because the focal point is all wrong for anything up close.

Space telescopes have the same problem. Tele + scope means "far + sight," and they are reallyfar-sighted. Powerful telescopes like the Hubble are designed to see things on the other side of the solar system — or even the universe! — not for close-up studies of the Moon's surface.

Above is what the Hubble Space Telescope sees when looking straight at the Apollo 17 lunar landing site. The Hubble is one of the most powerful telescopes ever made, floating above the interference of the Earth's atmosphere, but it can't resolve objects 9m across. For that, it would need a giant pair of "reading glasses!"

See Can telescopes see lunar landers or lunar rovers? and Abandoned Spaceships and Moon Buggies for great articles answering this question in more detail, with photos.

Apollo 13 Third Stage Booster on Moon

Photographed by LRO in March 2010

I think you know why there are no Apollo 13 landing photos.

However, Apollo 13 did leave its calling card: the first two stages of its booster rocket fell to Earth and burned up, but the third stage used to nudge it into lunar orbit crashed on the Moon. Itsimpact was recorded by a seismometer left by Apollo 12.

Crash site of Apollo 13 third stage (click photo to zoom in):
crash site of Apollo 13 third stage

Seismometers left by the various missions have helped to coordinate the crash sites of all the spent stages within a few hundred meters, but this is the first to be photographed.

Photos of Apollo 14 Lunar Lander

Image Credits: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

February 2011 LRO Photos of "Kitty Hawk" lunar lander (left) and surroundings (right) including more tracks and instruments. Click photos to zoom in.

Apollo 14 kitty hawk lunar landerphoto of apollo 14 lunar landing site

this article studying the Apollo 14 site for more information on the instruments and landforms seen in these photos.

photo of apollo 14 lunar lander and siteAt left and below are the Apollo 14 site photographed by the LRO in July 2009. Click to zoom in.Photo: Moon landing astronaut footprints and instruments seen from space

Also check out these August 2009 photos of Apollo 14 team's tracks to a nearby crater, and aphoto of Apollo 14's booster crash site.

Photos of Apollo 15 Moon Lander and Site

Below (left): March 2012 LRO photo of Apollo 15 lunar landing site. (right): April 2010 LRO photo of Apollo 15 lunar lander and Laser Ranging RetroReflector (LRRR), a special mirror that reflects back lasers aimed from Earth so that ground-based astronomers can measure the Moon's slow creep away from our planet.

photo of apollo 15 landing descent stageApollo 14 kitty hawk lunar lander

Photo: Apollo 15 Moon Landing from SpaceLeft (click to enlarge): The initial July 2009 photo of the Apollo 15 lander isn't great -- although the low sun angle casts a nice shadow -- but check out the full-sized photo from this early batch of LRO photos. I'm impressed they spotted it!

What's with the bright white glare?

Video of Apollo 17 take-off demonstrates sun glare on lunar module

Here's a video of one of the lunar modules returning to space, leaving behind a base and its legs. Notice the bright glare on the flat metal. (No, they didn't leave someone behind -- this camera was the one on Apollo 17's moon rover, controlled from Houston.)

Photos of Apollo 16 Moon Landing Site

Images credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

July 2009 (left) and July 2010 (right) photos of Apollo 16 moon landing site. Drastically different when sun is low (left) or at high noon (right)!

Photo: Apollo 16 Moon Landing from SpaceApollo 16 lunar lander photo from space

Also see this March 2012 photo of astronaut tracks to nearby crater.

Photos of Apollo 17 Landing Site

Including 2011 LRO photos of flag, lunar rover on moon

Photo: Apollo 17 Moon Landing from SpaceLeft: first photo of Apollo 17 taken by LRO in July 2009

Apollo 17's landing site happens to have been photographed more than any of the others, showing traces of the flag and lunar rover left behind in addition to the instruments and landing gear of Apollo 17's lunar module.

Apollo 17 was the last manned mission, December 1972.

Apollo 17 lander from space
Left (click to zoom): photos of the Apollo 17 lander taken with wide-angle camera at 50km and (c) narrow-angle camera at 22km.

From "Skimming the Moon," Sept. 6, 2011, as is this photo of Apollo 17's instruments:

Apollo 17 instruments on moon

Here's the entire Apollo 17 Landing Site (click for full-sized) taken in September 2011:

Apollo 17 landing site
In October 2009, the LRO's wide-angle camera snapped some fuzzy but significant photos of Apollo 17's lunar rover (LRV) and flag on the moon:

Photo: Apollo 17 Lunar lander on moon from spacePhoto of flag on moon from space

For more LRO photos of the landing site compared to photos taken during the Apollo 17 mission, see Exploring the Apollo 17 Site.

Video: Apollo 17 Landing Site

What are we looking at?

Note that the top of the lunar lander module blasted off to return astronauts to Earth. All that's left is the legs and platform it sat on.

Apollo 11 Almost Crashed

My parents talked about Armstrong having to pilot around some unexpected obstacle just before landing: the planned landing site turned out to be a boulder field.

It was worse than that, as this pre-landing video shows.

They're very lucky they landed in time, especially with the computer locked up!

Websites About the Apollo Moon Landings

Photos and Information About the Apollo Program

Abandoned Spacecraft on the Moon
A lot of good links and information about the craft left behind by the Apollo program and what the LRO team *hoped* they'd see before they got their first images of Apollo landing craft.
Exploring the Apollo 11 Landing SItes By Telescope
This amateur astronomy website shows all the Apollo moon landing sites from earth. You can zoom in on each landing site.
PHOTOS: 8 Moon-Landing Hoax Myths -- Busted
Examine the evidence, and find out why experts say some of the most common "moon landing hoax" claims don't hold water.
MythBusters Episode 104: NASA Moon Landing
The Mythbusters put the moon landing conspiracy theory to the test to determine if NASA faked the Apollo landings.
Apollo 11: 35 Years Later
Interactive site commemorating 35th anniversary of Apollo 11 moon landing, with photos, videos, and a review of the historic mission.
Photos: The other Apollo moon landings - CNET News
Apollo 11 is the most famous moon landing, but there were five other successful manned missions to the moon! Camera technology improved with the missions, so some of the later photos are even better.
The Apollo Program - Smithsonian Institution
Photos, videos & information on all manned Apollo missions from NASA and the National Air and Space Museum.
The Project Apollo Image Gallery
The most comprehensive high-quality image gallery of Apollo lunar mission photos and videos on the net.
The Fox News Moon Hoax Investigation: A Hoax?
Here's just some of the mistakes, distortions, and selective editing of the "facts" in their "investigation" of the moon landings. Hey, why let facts and common sense get in the way of a sensational news story?
The Great Moon Hoax - NASA Science
"Yes, there really is a Moon hoax, but the prankster isn't NASA. Moon rocks and common sense prove Apollo Astronauts really did visit the Moon."

Funny Moon Mission Video

Apollo 17 Astronaut Jack Schmitt: "Twinkletoes"

We've seen plenty of "cool" videos of the moon, but here's what it was really like. Low gravity and a bulky spacesuit can be tricky!

The LRO Mission

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's mission is not to photograph Apollo moon landing sites! It's looking for resources, following President George W. Bush's directive to establish a lunar base.

[Edit Nov '10: Obama's cut the manned space program to save $$.]

Radio Transmissions from Apollo 11

A number of radio operators picked up signals from Apollo; here's one amateur radio operatorwho recorded some of them. Poor quality, since he didn't have the powerful receivers used by mission control, but pretty neat nonetheless! (Also, here's a German radio station's recordings.)


1441908765The Apollo Guidance Computer: Architecture and Operation (Springer Praxis Books / Space Exploration) 
Frank J. O'Brien

1844256839NASA Apollo 11: An Insight into the Hardware from the First Manned Mission to Land on the Moon 
Christopher Riley

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Posted by Omkarr singh on Thursday, January 03, 2013. Filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0

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