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Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Highlights
06.23.11
 
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NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has changed our view of the entire moon and brought it into sharper focus with unprecedented detail. NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate operated the LRO spacecraft and its instruments during a one-year exploration mission. Data from its seven instruments have been added to the agency's Planetary Data System (publicly available at http://pds.nasa.gov). This is audio from the NASA media telecon held June 21, 2011, that highlighted LRO's success, the amazing data it collected as well as provided a general overview of how the agency will use it for future Lunar missions. For more information about LRO, visit: www.nasa.gov/LRO.

Christy:
Welcome, and thank you for standing by. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. After the presentation, we will conduct a question-and-answer session.

To ask a question at that time, please press *1. Today's conference is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time.

I would now like to turn it over to Mr. J.D. Harrington. Sir, you may begin.

Harrington:
Thank you, Christy. Hello, I'm J.D. Harrington, Public Affairs Officer for NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. I'd like to welcome you to today's media teleconference, where we will discuss the successful completion of ESMD's portion of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, commonly referred to as LRO.

Toward the end of the telecon, we'll highlight LRO's continuing mission for the Science Mission Directorate. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was launched two years ago on June 18th, 2009, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. It was designed to fly in low polar orbit, approximately 31 miles above the lunar surface, while a set of instruments searched for safe landing sites, located potential resources, and monitored the radiation environment.

Just on the order of events this afternoon, we have three panelists joining us. Each will give a short briefing, and then we will open the phone lines for questions and answers. You can find the briefing materials being discussed today by pointing your browser to www.nasa.gov/lro.

I'd like to take a moment to welcome and introduce our panelists joining us today. First, we have Doug Cook, NASA's Associate Administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

We also have Michael Wargo, NASA's chief lunar scientist for exploration, who also works with ESMD at NASA Headquarters. And Rich Vondrak, the LRO project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

So with that, I'd like to hand the discussion off to our current panelist, Doug Cook. Doug?

Cook:
Thank you, J.D.

As J.D. said, we're holding this telecon today to announce the point in time where the LRO team has reached full mission success for the ESMD portion of the mission. We're doing that while LRO is still orbiting the moon and continuing to gather incredible data that we'll benefit from for years to come. To me, this is exciting, I'm very proud of this mission, we and the team that pulled this off and has really provided some incredible data.

Our organization, the ESMD, actually turned over the keys to the LRO mission to the Science Mission Directorate back last fall, when we had achieved all of our objectives. At this point in time, we're having this discussion because now all the data has been loaded into the planetary data system, and it's on the order of a hundred- ninety two terabytes of data, which is more than all the other spacecraft studying the solar system. So it's an incredible achievement, and a lot of data.

LRO's seven instruments provided data on topography including 3-D maps, including incredible photography. It provided data on composition, radiation environment, temperatures on the surface with changing light conditions, resources such as volatiles and potential water ice that could be of incredible interest in the future, as well as lighting changes as the moon rotates.

The photography from the LROC instrument that I find truly stunning. We're seeing details of the moon that we've never seen before. We're seeing features and unique details that have not been possible. And all of the other instruments are providing valuable new insights into the moon. Although some of the findings have been- have already been published in publications, it will undoubtedly be decades- it'll take decades to make the discoveries that are now in the data system, embedded there, waiting to be mined and studied. Later scientists will continue to study and make these discoveries for years to come. With the data now loaded into the planetary data system, it's available to anyone interested in studying the lunar surface. It provides a wealth of information that can inform future missions- robotic and human- in years to come.

As a part of this point in time, I do want to thank the Goddard design team that provided such an incredible spacecraft that continues to operate very well, providing the capability for all of these instruments to make their measurements.

I also want to thank the United States and Russian scientists who were the principal investigators on these instruments. They led the teams that envisioned what could be learned from these instruments and are now producing these incredible results that we're seeing. I also want to thank our own LRO team at Headquarters, who has helped work through a lot of different details in order to help make all of this mission a success.

In the future, you'll be hearing more from the Science Mission Directorate as our lunar robotic orbiter continues to explore the moon through this data, and gathering new information. So with that, I want to turn it back to J.D. to- and we'll get to the next speaker. Thank you.

Harrington:
Alright, thank you Doug. And with that, here's Michael Wargo. Mike?

Wargo:
Right. Thanks, J.D. And thanks to all of you out there for being able to join us today.

As I describe some of LRO's achievements, putting a little bit more detail to the list that Doug just provided, I'm going to be referring to graphs and animations that are available on our website that we've set up for this briefing. So, follow along with that, and I'll try to remember to tell you when I'm talking about a new figure.

LRO was originally conceived to deliver the kinds of information we need to plan for safe and effective exploration of our moon. Today, we're here to tell you that that's exactly what we did in space. That includes, as Doug went down the list, finding locations where it's safe to land, identifying potential resources like continuous sunlight for solar power and water that would enable us to explore in a sustainable manner, and measuring the radiation environment that can affect the safety of our astronauts. Well, LRO's come through with flying colors.

I'm going to give you a few examples of the amazing detail that we now have of the moon and how it will help in our future planning. And for each one, there's a strong connection to our dramatically improved scientific understanding of the moon that goes along with it. And that's not just by luck, either, that was planned in from the very beginning.

We knew that to get the information we need to continue to explore the moon, we needed to leverage the very best that the science community had to offer. They have the understanding of the moon's lunar environment, the experience in designing, building, and operating the planetary instruments, and those instruments, those are just the instruments we would need to make the measurements to enable our future planning.

We've been acquiring the data needed to plan for future human exploration, and as we've done that, there's a wealth of great scientific information that's there right along with it. Rich is going to tell you about the LRO science portion of the mission in just a bit.

To start off, I want to show you and give you an example of how our view of the moon has changed with respect to the moon's surface relief or topography. So, go to the first figure on the website on which is an animation and let's start that, play that. On the left side is now the moon looked, topographically, based on the best data that we had prior to LRO's launch. On the right side, is now we see it now, after LRO's observations. We go from a relatively fuzzy moon that kind of looks out-of-focus to one that's sharp, and very well-defined. And in fact, that's really the story of LRO's success, it's actually a theme for what we're telling you today- and that's that we've brought the moon into focus in a number of different contexts. The topography, the imaging, the temperature, the resources, and so on.

The sharply-detailed topography which results from our Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter, which we call LOLA, to understand the source of that detail, let's just consider for a minute the number of measurements that LRO has made and that LOLA has made, compared to all the other laser altimeters that have operated at the moon. To date, LOLA has made more than 4.1 billion topographic measurements. That's billion, with a b. All of the other measurements that have been made by all of the other spacecraft at the moon add up to less than around 30 million measurements total. That means that LOLA on LRO has returned substantially more than a hundred times the total number of measurements made by all the other missions combined.

And then, let's go to graphic number two. And as we see there, this data gives us more detail than any insight- than just the topography. It also gives us a more detailed insight into other important characteristics of the moon that affect our ability to select safe landing sites- things like the slope of the surrounding terrain, and how rough it is around the area where you consider landing and operating.

Another example of how the moon has literally come into sharper focus based on LRO data is to look at the magnificent imaging that Doug was talking about that has been provided by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, called LROC. And in fact, it's not just one camera, but it's a combination of three cameras- two very high-resolution narrow-angle cameras and a third wide-angle camera.

In the next graphic, we illustrate the extraordinary capability and resolution of the narrow-angle cameras. This is just one frame, it's set up as an animation, but it's just one frame of the narrow-angle camera, where we're going to fly into the image. This single frame is five thousand pixels wide and fifty-two thousand pixels long. From LRO's altitude of about 30 miles or 50 kilometers, this translates into each pixel representing about a half a meter or a little bit more than a foot and a half on the surface of the moon.

As we zoom in, we keep seeing more and more and more details, including rocks, boulders, craters, and even the trails of boulders that have rolled down the steep slopes of the crater. At that resolution, the Apollo sites are revealed with such detail we can actually see where the astronauts walked, where they placed their scientific instruments, and where they drove the rovers that they had taken with them. These amazing images have given us scientific insights that prior to LRO were only just strong conjectures.

In the fourth graphic, we see this very high-resolution image that shows underground tubes where lava flowed billions of years ago, revealed through windows where that roof of the tube has broken and fallen in. That bridge-and there's also a bridge that's left over the top of it that's around 25 feet across. The LROC team was originally supposed to cover about 10% of the moon's surface at this extraordinary resolution during the exploration phase of LRO's mission. They've actually been able to cover fifty percent more than that, and as of about a week ago, that means that almost three hundred and fifty thousand images at that spectacular high resolution have been created and are residing in the planetary data system that Doug referred to.

Now, let's shift gears a bit, and talk about finding resources that will enable us to explore the moon more sustainably than we have been able to explore in the past. We normally don't think of sunlight as a resource, but on the moon, LRO's found places where the sun shines more than 240 days of the year and never has a period of darkness that's more than about 24 hours. With the high-resolution topography we have and the cameras that are onboard like we've just seen, we've been able to both measure the light and dark regions as well as predict that lighting anywhere on the surface of the moon at times in the past, as well as predicting those lighting patterns on the moon.

In the next graphic, we have a movie that was created by our LRO scientists that shows us how that lighting changes at the South Pole, based on the topography of the area and the location of the sun. There are permanently shadowed regions that are amazingly cold. These are in the areas where there are areas that are just never lit. However, there are some areas that are lit almost all the time. In an area that is right off the rim of Shackleton Crater, near the surface of the movie frame, we find one of those areas. That might be a good place to install a system of solar panels, for example, to provide the electricity that's going to be needed for both robotic and human missions.

By the way, those really cold, dark areas can also hold another type of resource- frozen stuff, like, say, water ice. LRO helped us look for the presence of water in Cabeus Crater near the lunar South Pole when another NASA spacecraft, called LCROSS, impacted the cold interior and sent up a plume of lunar dust that indeed confirmed that water ice was hidden in that really dark, cold area.

Now, let's go to the sixth graphic, which shows the temperature over the South Pole measured by LRO's Lunar- LRO's Diviner radiometer. The temperatures in Cabeus Crater near the South Pole are unbelievably cold, but Hermite Crater, near the North Pole, is even colder. So far, it's the coldest place measured in the solar system. Only about 25 degrees centigrade above absolute zero. That's above fifty degrees above absolute zero.

In graphic seven, we illustrate how LRO has received additional help from the- LRO's Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector, or LEND, which is an instrument that's provided by our colleagues in Russia. This animation illustrates the much higher level of hydrogen that was in Cabeus Crater compared to the surrounding area. The increased hydrogen was another important clue that water might be expected to be there. Whereas once we thought that the moon was bone-dry, we now know that it is indeed wet. Wet enough to potentially provide water to future explorers.

Well, these are just a few examples of how LRO has provided us the information we'll need to continue our planning to explore space beyond Low-Earth Orbit. I didn't get the chance to discuss the results of a few of the other instruments that also made truly comprehensive measurements in radiation, we have a synthetic aperture radar, and ultraviolet measurements made by our Lunar- our Lyman-Alpha Mapper Instrument. These data are just as compelling as all the other examples I've given you. Now, let me turn things over to Rich Vondrak, who will tell us about LRO's new science mission and how LRO's going to continue to provide ongoing high-resolution and detailed information about the moon which will benefit both science as well as exploration. Over to you, Rich.

Vondrak:
Right, thanks, Mike. As Mike has indicated, LRO has delivered all that NASA needs for exploration and more. From our exploration mission, LRO delivered 192 terabytes of data, which is an incredible amount. To put it into perspective, this is more information than is contained in all the books and printed information in the Library of Congress. It is more than four times greater than all the data recoded by the Hubble Space Telescope in its first 20 years of operation.

Now, how is LRO able to do that? Because the moon is our nearest neighbor in space, LRO can send data back to Earth at a much faster rate than can be done for more distance worlds in our solar system. NASA constructed a receiving system at White Sands, New Mexico, dedicated just to LRO, so LRO can send data back to Earth every time the moon is visible from White Sands. Now, last Saturday, we celebrated the second anniversary of the LRO launch. Since launch, the LRO science teams have been busy operating their instruments, analyzing data, and creating exploration data products. They have also been working very hard to use these data to learn more about the moon.

Some of the early science results have been so significant that they have already been published in premier science journals. These results are providing new insights into the history of the moon, its composition, and the processes that have altered its surface. Now, let me give you just a few examples. Mike showed you how the LOLA topography measurements have given us a clearer view of the moon. These topographic maps were used to make a detailed inventory of all lunar craters larger than 20 kilometers. It was found that the craters in the oldest part of the moon, the lunar highlands, are larger than the craters in the younger parts of the moon, the mare surfaces. This shows that the streams of objects that bombarded the Earth and the moon early in the beginnings of the Earth-Moon System were larger than those that struck the Earth and the moon in the later times.

Now let me give you another example of the scientific impact of some of the LRO observations. Mike showed maps of the temperature and illumination at the lunar polar regions. These maps have been used to identify locations that are cold and dark, where water and other hydrogen compounds might be preserved. However, the surprising result from LRO is that not all of these regions contain hydrogen, and some of this hydrogen is found in areas that are not persistently dark. These LRO observations, as well as other recent measurements by other investigators have completely changed the way scientists think about the moon. Based just on the rocks from the Apollo sites, the scientific consensus has been that the moon is very dry. So these new observations are very surprising and they change our scientific view of the moon.

Last week, in Houston, there was a workshop called "Wet vs. Dry Moon" with more than 100 scientists on to develop a new consensus for the history of water on the moon and on the Earth. Now, there is still more science information to come from LRO, and more discoveries to be made. Last September, when LRO finished its work for exploration, responsibility for LRO was transferred to the Science Mission Directorate, and LRO is now being operated as a science mission. These LRO science mission-measurements are expected to continue through at least September of 2012.The LRO results are writing new pages in the history book that relates the origin and evolution of the Earth-Moon System as well as the rest of the solar system.

So, scientists and explorers are all eagerly looking forward to these additional observations and measurements from LRO. So now let me turn this all back over to J.D. Harrington, who will moderate the question-and-answer section of the telecon.

Harrington:
Thank you, Rich. Like Rich said, we'll now move on to the question-and-answer session. As a reminder, this is a teleconference for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Please keep your questions on topic.

Start by identifying yourself and your media affiliation, and when possible, director your question to a specific panelist if possible to eliminate any confusion. You can signal the operators that you have a question by pressing the *1 key on your telephone. And with that, I'll hand off control over to our operator, Christy.

Christy:
Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer portion of the call today. If you would like to ask a question, please press *1 on your touch-tone phone. As a reminder, please remember to unmute your phone and record your name when prompted. You may withdraw a question by pressing *2. Please stand by for our first question.

Our first question comes from Seth Bornstein from the Associated Press. Your line is open.

Bornstein:
Thanks. It's Seth Bornstein from the AP. I guess this is more to Doug than anyone, but Mike can join in. Given that this administration has changed the goal, cancelling Constellation, and the moon is definitely on the outs compared to other places, I understand the science value, but I've- can you just explain why this has any value in exploration if we're really not going to the moon as a goal anymore, if at most a stopover place? And as a follow-up, can you give me if we were to somehow go back to the moon as planned in two-thousand-whenever this was proposed- what are the top three sites? I'm wondering why is it worth half a billion dollars if we're not going there now?

Cook:
Well, we haven't ruled out the moon forever, and so it is still a destination of interest in the future for humans. As the LRO data has come in, we've learned a lot more than we've known before it flew, and we learn more every day. So we've learned of places that are of high interest. So I think it has tremendous value for the future as well as a part of the data collection process, there were- I forget the number, Mike can probably, or Rich can chime in- but there were quite a few sites that were of interest for both science and exploration. We're using reasons, so this is data that will be of value for years and years to come, so it's of high interest, it's bringing back tremendous interest in the information about the moon, our nearest neighbor, and I wouldn't rule it out as a destination forever, there are extremely interesting places to go.

Wargo:
Yes, Seth? It's Mike Wargo. Let me add a few more points. One is that with this enormous new insight we have into the moon, this information isn't going to go away. It's not going to get stale, if you will. In fact, it keeps getting richer and richer in terms of our both scientific understanding and our understanding for planning purposes. So the information is timely for us for ongoing planning, but in a lot of ways, it's also timeless. Rich indicated that we're re-writing the textbooks about the moon, and that information is going to be there for both lunar, and planetary, and solar system scientists as well as to inform our planning as we move along the flexible path and we develop capabilities to explore beyond Low-Earth Orbit.

Bornstein:
And, I guess, to follow up, the top three potential landing sites given- from what you've learned- for humans.

Wargo:
Yeah, the- Doug referred to a number of sites that were looked at in exquisite detail, we had about 50 of them, and the reasons we selected them was- were numerous. First of all, they represented a very wide range of terrains that were on the surface of the moon, and each one of them had a scientific context that provided them as high-priority areas for scientific investigation. All of that information is available, and I'm not sure right now that we've gone through LRO in enough detail that we would want to select the top three, because we have ongoing measurements that are occurring during the science portion of the mission, and these will help us identify new areas that look particularly interesting, and we may find new potential high-priority landing sites that weren't among the 50 representative terrain and science areas.

Bornstein:
Thank you.

Christy:
Please stand by one moment. Peter Spotts, with Christian Science Monitor, the line is now open.

Spotts:
Jeez, I don't know how to beat this. I want to thank you guys for doing this. I wonder, I guess this is for Dr. Vondrak, you were talking about the different characteristics of the cratering across different regions of the moon. I wonder if you could kind of unpack that a little bit and how you folks are interpreting that- as something that is perhaps reinforcing notions about what was going on in the early solar system that people already had, or is this providing you some new insights that you never had before?

Vondrak:
Yeah, I- this is Rich Vondrak. I can address that- the initial paper was published last fall, in Science magazine, by Jim Head of Brown University and co-workers, and what he found was, for the first time with LRO, we were able to do a comprehensive inventory of all the craters on the moon and they were able to identify more than 5,000 craters that were larger than 20 kilometers- and this is about twice as many as had been identified in previous studies. And what they found were that the oldest parts of the moon had craters that were more abundant and the size range was 50 to 100 kilometers and the fresher parts of the moon were only abundant in the 20-30 kilometer range in the mare surfaces. Now when I say fresher, the mare surfaces were formed around 3.8 billion years ago and the highlands are much older than that, and we know that it was suspected from the earlier data that the early Earth-Moon system had been bombarded by something called the Heavy Bombardment with a transition that occurred between 3.8 to 4 billion years ago. And this new LRO data really gives insight into the populations, the size ranges, of these impactors that struck the Earth and the Moon at these early stages. And it was, in fact, the data from the moon that indicated that the solar system may have rearranged itself during this transition, what we now call the Late Heavy Bombardment. So it's just been in the last few years that the description of what happened to the solar system in those formative years is now better understood and we hope that the continued observations from LRO will refine our knowledge of what those impactors were like.

Spotts:
Thank you.

Christy:
Our next question comes from Frank Mooring. The line is open.

Mooring:
Thank you. This is, I think, for Dr. Wargo, coming up, I believe in September, is the GRAIL mission, which will follow the LRO in orbit and measure the lunar gravity. Could you talk about how the data set from LRO will complement or inform what the GRAIL constellation will find?

Wargo:
Sure. Part of the work that was done by our laser altimeter includes techniques that allow us to gain refinement in our understanding of the moon's gravitational field. However, GRAIL is a truly exquisite set of- will provide a truly exquisite set of measurements that will determine the spacial changes in the lunar gravitational field to a substantially finer detail than has ever been done in the past. The improvement in the representation of the moon's gravitational field based on LRO and prior missions is information that was valuable in our planning purposes for a human return to the moon. The more highly-detailed measurements that will be made by GRAIL will allow for improved scientific understanding of the moon, particularly the moon's interior. As you get to higher and higher levels of detail of the changes in the gravitational field locally, that is an inference for structural changes inside the moon, and that's one of the big question marks about our moon's internal structure, and the evolution of the internal structure of the moon. Rich, do you have anything to add on GRAIL?

Vondrak:
Oh, no, Mike, I think you described it well. The simple way to know this is that GRAIL measures with high precision the internal structure of the moon, LRO is a remote sensing satellite that measures with fine detail the surface of the moon and the external shape of the moon. So by tying together those two measured parameters, we can relate surface features to internal structure and we can develop a comprehensive view of the composition and the internal structure of the moon.

Wargo:
Yeah, the moderate improvements in the moon's gravitational field that LRO has accomplished are really a side benefit from the very high-resolution topography we obtained via the laser altimeter. It was a freebee.

Mooring:
May I ask an unrelated follow-up? Or, not follow-up, but…

Wargo:
Go ahead, Frank.

Mooring:
You didn't really say much about your radiation measurements and I wonder if there were any surprises in there that might actually change your exploration planning.

Wargo:
Well, it was really tough to decide which of the things to talk about in five or ten minutes. The radiation measurements have been particularly valuable to us in that we have just come out of one of the deepest, most prolonged solar minima that's been registered in the modern era, and that gave us a way to characterize particularly the galactic cosmic ray environment under those exceptional conditions of solar inactivity. And so it's provided us with some bounding measurements, if you will, with regards to the changes in galactic cosmic ray flux.

At the same time, we're finding that, as LRO has been operating closer to the moon than most other missions, that there is a- as you get closer and closer to the moon, they're finding an additional source of radiation, associated, they believe, with the interaction of these galactic cosmic rays with the lunar surface. And secondary particles are being returned back into space in the vicinity of the spacecraft. This is ongoing work and it's providing us additional insight into the sources of radiation that would influence the safety of our astronauts.

Mooring:
Thank you.

Christy:
Our next question comes from Raphael Jaffey. Your line is open.

Jaffey:
Yes, this is a question, possibly for Doug Cook- is there any relation between the Google Lunar prize activity that is now going on and what NASA is planning? It's interesting that private enterprise is going to be planning to send a probe up to the moon and have it move and send back data.

Cook:
Actually, we applaud their efforts and we have a synergistic effort called ILDD and perhaps Mike Wargo can comment on that, but we certainly are interested in what they can provide in the ability to take rides to the moon and other instruments there and we have encouraged that activity, actually. So Mike, you might want to add to that.

Wargo:
Yeah, the ILDD that Doug is referring to, the Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data, where if the successful Google Lunar X-Prize mission, if they obtain data that's useful for NASA's continued planning, that would be available on a data purchase basis. There's also areas where NASA's helping them- all of this data that we're pulling in from LRO is really valuable to them for their own planning purposes for their mission- knowing that topography, having that high-resolution imagery of the surface, knowing how the temperature changes, how the lighting changes, what the radiation environment is, that's helping them in their planning for how they're going to approach the Google Lunar X-Prize.

Jaffey:
Thank you.

Christy:
Our next question comes from Nadia Drake with Science News. Your line is open.

Drake:
Hi, this is Nadia with Science News. This question would be directed to Dr. Vondrak. I was wondering if all of the instruments onboard the LRO are still fully functional?

Vondrak:
I'm sorry, could you repeat the question? I had trouble hearing that.

Drake:
I'm wondering if all the instruments onboard the LRO are still fully functional?

Vondrak:
Thank you. We had six science instruments and a technology demonstrator on LRO. All of the instruments made wonderful measurements and performed well. Last December, our technology demonstrator, which was an innovative synthetic aperture radar system, its transmitter ceased to function. And the instrument is still functional, but in a receive-only mode, and we're contemplating doing some experiments with it in that fashion. So it's the only instrument that has had a significant failure. All of the other instruments have met their requirements for NASA. Some of them had aged slightly, but we don't have any that failed to meet their requirements.

Christy:
Once again, to ask a question, please press *1. Please stand by.

Wargo:
By the way, another piece of- this is Mike Wargo- another piece of information with respect to the radar- the original planning for that technology demonstration had operational times on the order of a few minutes per month. And by having timed, highly-efficient, and well-planned operations of the spacecraft, we were able to provide far more additional time for the technology demonstrator than was originally planned. In fact, they've taken radar measurements of a substantial fraction of the moon's surface. So it was a highly successful technology demonstration and it provided significant scientific and exploration value beyond that related to the original technology demonstration.

Vondrak:
I can expand on that a little bit. The radar was able to measure roughly two-thirds of the moon with radar maps. This included complete maps of the polar regions and also maps of the lunar farside, which is not visible from Earth-based radar, so these are observations of regions that had never been mapped before with radar.

Wargo:
Yeah, one other thing: the other real benefit is, radar is in the dark. So those really cold, dark areas, those permanently shadowed craters, the radar was very effective at being able to image their internal relief and structure.

Christy:
Our next question comes from Diana Fadra of Reformed Newspaper. You're on the line.

Fadra:
Thank you very much. Hi, everyone. I'd like to know what are the moon's secrets that you're waiting to solve in the next years? I believe that you mentioned Mexico, are you working with Mexican researchers, could you give other details about it?

Wargo:
Yes, our scientific teams, interestingly enough, act with the worldwide scientific community. And so all of the data that has been acquired by LRO is open, not just nationally, but internationally, to the scientific community, so Mexican researchers that are interested in taking advantage of the measurements that LRO has made and is continuing to make, those are open to them in our planetary data system.

Fadra:
Are you collaborating closely with those who are picking the data?

Wargo:
Well, each of our scientific teams has ongoing work that they do with other researchers around the country and around the globe. I'm not sure about all of them, so I can't give you a unique answer for this, but we will take that and identify it as a question that we need to answer for you.

Vondrak:
This is Rich Vondrak. To my knowledge, we don't have any co-investigators or any formal members of any science teams that are from Mexico, and I don't know if they are collaborating with anyone from Mexico.

Fadra:
Okay.
Christy:
Our next question comes from Mike Wallace, Space.com. Your line is open.

Wallace:
Yeah, hi. This next phase of the science mission will go through at least 2012, right? Do you guys anticipate that it could go for longer than that and if it could, why, is it just a cash question or are there some other things that could actually limit how long the science mission can go for?

Vondrak:
Well, the spacecraft we expect can last for many years. The funding right now from the Science Mission Directorate runs- covers operations through September of 2012 with a six-month period of data analysis funded after that. Next winter the planetary science division at Headquarters will ask for a proposal from all planetary missions that will want to be in extended operations and we will submit a proposal at that point for additional operations through September of 2014.

Now, the orbit we're in right now is a 50-kilometer or 30-mile circular mapping orbit. That's a fuel-intensive orbit in that we have to, every month, fire our propulsion system in order to maintain that low altitude and not impact the moon. What we're going to do is, we've carefully analyzed the fuel we have remaining and we're going to stay at the 31-mile altitude orbit until the end of this year, and then we're going to use our fuel to go into a long-lived stable orbit which is elliptical and has a low altitude over the south pole and a higher altitude over the north pole. And we'll be able to maintain that orbital configuration for another six-to-eight years. And NASA Headquarters will continue to evaluate how long the instruments and spacecraft are performing and then decide whether to fund us for time periods beyond 2012 or 2014.

Wallace:
Thank you.

Christy:
Our next question comes from Frank Moring, your line is open, with Aviation Week.

Mooring:
Thank you. I hope you don't mind me circling back around, but I was interested in what you said about the synthetic aperture radar. That was originally built as a water-hunter and I wondered if you could give me some information about what it found before the transmitter failed?

Wargo:
Well, remember there are- it's Mike Wargo- there have been two of these radars that have been at the moon recently. One was on the Chandrayaan-1 mission, from India, and the purpose of that unit WAS the search for water, or water ice, at the poles. The technology demonstration portion of the mission for LRO, that principle focus was on radio communications for the technology demonstration portion of it and the ice-searching is a, like some of the other measurements, like the gravity measurements from the altimeter, a side benefit. And there have been recent communications by members of the teams on the radar signatures, particularly from areas around the North Pole, that they interpret as the presence of water in ice form that has- large chunks of ice that have sizes that are on the order of multiple lengths of the radar, which we put it as chunks of ice that are on the order of a softball to a basketball.

Vondrak:
Let me also, let me understand, the tech demo, the main purpose it was communication experiments and those were all successfully performed, the water-hunting or ice-hunting was just an added bonus, and in addition to doing the very limited number of communications demonstrations that we had been obligated to do, we were able to operate the spacecraft and the radar transmitter so that we got all these additional measurements as a bonus.

Mooring:
What was the, let me ask, what was the application of the communications portion of the experiment?

Vondrak:
They were in order to look at additional ways to communicate with a small system like that, with spacecraft, and I think Mike Wargo can address that, since he's more familiar with those than I am.

Wargo:
Yeah, one of the things that you'd like to have in your communications system is robustness and low-mass and working at low-power. You'd also like it to be programmable. You could change its characteristics without rebuilding hardware, or even do it on the fly during the mission, and those were some of the aspects of the technology demonstration.

Mooring:
Who was that demonstration being done for?

Wargo:
It was for our Space Operations Mission Directorate.

Mooring:
Thank you.

Wargo:
And they were the sponsors for that technology demonstration.

Christy:
Once again, to ask a question, please press *1 on your touch-tone phone. One moment, please.
(Pause)
At this time, I'm seeing no further questions. I will turn the call back over to you.

Harrington:
Thank you very much. And that's going to do it for today's media telecon. I'd like to thank our panelists for our time today and for more information about LRO, please join us on the web at www.nasa.gov/lro. Again, thank you for participating in today's conference and have a nice day.

Christy:
Thank you for participating in today's conference. The conference has concluded. Feel free to disconnect at this time.

 
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