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.
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.
One goal of LRO is to find safe landing sites on the moon. 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. 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 could provide hydrogen to be used as rocket fuel.
NASA hopes all these instruments will give the agency the best information ever gathered about the moon.
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.
Why Is NASA Studying the Moon?
NASA and scientists around the world want to study the moon. What they learn will help NASA to learn more about the history of Earth, the solar system and the universe. Another reason to study the moon is to help people go to other places like Mars and beyond.
What Is LCROSS?
LCROSS is a satellite that launched with LRO. LCROSS crashed into the moon to 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. LCROSS flew close to the moon and the two parts separated. The first part hit the moon near one of its poles. The impact made a crater about one-third the size of a football field. The crater is about as deep as the deep end of a swimming pool.
The impact made dust and ice on the moon's surface fly out of the crater. Scientists guess that the amount of stuff that flew out of the crater could fill 10 school buses.
The second part of LCROSS flew through the dust and ice to study them. The second piece also hit the moon. It landed several miles away from the first piece.
LRO and LCROSS are part of NASA's Lunar Precursor Robotic Program. The program manages robotic missions to the moon.
More about LRO
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Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services