Exploring the Moon from Orbit

On January 17, 2020, TREX’s Ryan Watkins spoke at the St Louis Astronomical Society meeting. In this 45 min presentation, Watkins focused on the big scientific discoveries from Apollo, and how we use LRO to evaluate potential future landing sites for human and robotic landed missions. According to Watkins:

Map of Landing sites.
Red: USSR/Russia, Blue/Green: USA, Yellow: Chinese (credit: NASA)

Apollo was one of, if not THE greatest, achievements of the 20th century. Apollo left an incredible legacy spanning culture, engineering, politics, and science that we are still learning from today. However, 50 years have passed since man first set foot on the Moon, and the US has not had a human or robotic presence on the lunar surface since. With the forthcoming Artemis program and international interest in the Moon, scientists and engineers are busy selecting the best landing sites for future missions. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) was designed to gather information to help scientists and engineers plan NASA’s return to the Moon with robots and astronauts. Having been in orbit for 10 years now, scientists are equipped with a wealth of data for selecting future landing sites. Dr. Watkins discussed the most significant scientific discoveries of Apollo, as well as destinations that are being mapped out as top scientific sites for future lunar exploration. One of these destinations is south pole, which harbors water ice and is currently slated to be the destination for the first crewed mission to the lunar surface for the Artemis program. Other destinations of interest for both science and human exploration include the Aristarchus Plateau, lava pits, silicic volcanic areas, and lunar swirls. Continued lunar exploration is imperative for addressing unanswered scientific questions, practicing for longer-duration missions to Mars, harvesting resources, and fostering international collaborations.