LRO Ends Recon Mission, Starts Science Phase

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NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) completed the exploration phase of its mission Sept. 16 and will turn its attention to helping scientists better understand the Moon. Until now, LRO had been scouting the Moon to help NASA plan for future lunar exploration missions.

“LRO has been an outstanding success. The spacecraft has performed brilliantly,” said Doug Cooke, associate administrator of NASA’s exploration systems mission directorate, in a statement. “LRO’s science and engineering teams achieved all of the mission’s objectives, and the incredible data LRO gathered will provide discoveries about the Moon for years to come.”

NASA launched the LRO probe in June 2009 along with a piggyback probe that crashed into the shadows of a crater at the Moon’s south pole in October of that year in a hunt for water ice, which it found. The spacecraft is about the size of a small car and equipped with seven instruments to observe the Moon.

From its polar orbit 50 kilometers up, LRO produced a comprehensive map of the lunar surface in unprecedented detail, NASA officials said.

The probe also has searched for resources and safe landing sites for potential future missions to the Moon, measured lunar temperatures and radiation levels and helped confirm the presence of water on the Moon.

LRO’s new mission phase will be more focused on answering specific research questions than on broad exploration, NASA officials said. The probe will continue to map the Moon for two to four more years, they added.

“The official start of LRO’s science phase should write a new and intriguing chapter in lunar research,” said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate.