Marshall Space Flight Center: The Moon

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Marshall's Role in Exploring the Moon

Waxing crescent moon, copyright Joby MinorIn parallel with NASA's directive to return humans to the moon, robotic explorers will serve as trailblazers for scientists to better understand the moon’s environmental conditions and the resources available to sustain human presence. Marshall plays a critical role in NASA's Lunar Science Initiative having overall management responsibility of the seven lunar robotic spacecraft planned for launch between 2008 and 2014. These seven spacecraft and their missions represent the most extensive lunar robotic exploration program of any nation. The lunar missions are described below within their respective Marshall managed programs.

Lunar Precursor Robotic Program
The first two lunar robotic missions fall under the Lunar Precursor Robotic Program (LPRP), and represents NASA's initial step in returning humans to the moon. Responsible for overall program management of LPRP, Marshall provides mission oversight, technology planning, systems assessment, flight assurance and public outreach. Scheduled for launch in 2009, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) will be accompanied by the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), which utilizes the spent upper stage of the Atlas V rocket to perform its mission. LRO, developed at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, is a lunar-orbiting spacecraft that will map the moon’s surface to identify future robotic and human landing sites; assess light, thermal and radiation environments; and search for potential lunar resources. The second spacecraft, LCROSS, developed at NASA Ames Research Center, will impact the lunar south pole to search for evidence of water ice, an important resource for sustainable human exploration.

Discovery Program
The Discovery Program provides for focused, scientific investigations that complement NASA's larger planetary exploration. Its goal is to launch numerous small missions with a faster development phase -- each for considerably less than the cost of larger missions. Marshall has program management responsibility for Discovery and its missions, providing technical expertise, overseeing costs and schedules, assessing risks and mitigation plans, and conducting education and public outreach activities.

The lunar robotic exploration missions under the Discovery Program currently in development at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), will increase our understanding of the Moon’s resources, atmosphere, and interior structure. The Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) is one of two instruments that NASA is contributing to India's first mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan-1, which is scheduled for launch in 2008. M3 is a state-of-the-art imaging spectrometer -- an optical instrument that will provide the first map of the entire lunar surface at high spatial and spectral resolution. Future astronauts will use it to locate potential resources, including water that can support sustainable human exploration of the Moon and beyond.

The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission will fly twin spacecraft in tandem orbits around the moon for several months to measure its gravity field and internal structure. Scheduled to launch in 2011, the mission will provide scientists a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed.

Lunar Science Program
NASA's new Lunar Science Program is a multi-element program consisting of flight missions, instruments for lunar missions of opportunity, as well as research and analysis efforts. An additional component of the program is the NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI), managed by the Ames Research Center. Marshall has program management responsibility for the Lunar Science Program providing overall mission management oversight.

Two new robotic missions under consideration include a small lunar orbiter to be launched in 2011 and two lunar mini-lander missions to be launched in the 2013-14 timeframe. The orbiter, a small satellite called the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer or LADEE for short, is aptly named for its mission. LADEE, managed at Ames, will investigate the phenomena of dust lofting and transport and explore the moon’s thin atmosphere -- made up of captured solar wind molecules and gas release from the lunar interior. The two lunar mini-lander missions developed and managed at Marshall, will make up the first U.S. nodes in the International Lunar Network (ILN). These anchor nodes will act as monitoring stations on the moon, measuring moonquakes and other geophysical phenomena at several surface sites.


Lunar Programs

Lunar Reconnaissance OrbiterLunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
The LRO mission will conduct investigations that will prepare for and support future human exploration of the moon.
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Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing SatelliteLunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite
The mission objectives of LCROSS include confirming the presence or absence of water ice in a permanently shadowed crater at the moon's south pole.
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NASA official Apollo 40th Anniversary logoArchive: Apollo 11 40th Anniversary
Apollo 11 helped humankind achieve a remarkable feat of sending mankind to the moon. The journey began at the Marshall Center, where the powerful Saturn V rocket was designed, built, and tested.
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Page Last Updated: May 1st, 2014
Page Editor: Brooke Boen