For NASA's Moon Probe, Physics Trumps Shutdown
42 years after the first moon rover transported the Apollo 15 astronauts over the lunar terrain, here are a selection of NASA photos taken by Apollo 15 commander David Scott and Lunar Module pilot James Irwin during their wheeled 1971 lunar adventure while Alfred Worden, command module pilot, remained in orbit about the moon.
Shown here, after three highly successful EVAs, Scott walks away from the first ever Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), a location where it remains to this day.
(All photos are sourced from NASA's excellent Human Spaceflight Gallery: http://spaceflight1.nasa.gov/gallery/index.html)
An artist's concept of the Apollo 15 Hadley-Apennine landing area showing the two moon-exploring crewmen, Scott and Irwin, driving on the lunar rover.
The lunar rover was attached to the lunar module and lowered to the surface and unfolded by the Apollo surface crew. When packed, the rover took up a volume of only four cubic feet.
Scott and Irwin drive the Lunar Roving Vehicle trainer called "Grover" during a simulation of lunar surface extravehicular activity in Taos, New Mexico.
Scott (right) and Irwin test out the lunar rover before the Apollo 15 mission to the moon at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Fla., in May 1971.
Gover is driven up to the edge of a man-made crater in Cinder Lake crater field in Arizona to simulate the lunar landscape.
On July 31, 1971, the first lunar rover is unpacked during the first surface extravehicular activity (EVA) at the Hadley-Apennine landing site on the moon. The lunar module, "Falcon," is shown here with the rover and lunar module pilot James Irwin.
The US flag is unfolded and planted toward the end of the Apollo 15 mission; Irwin salutes.
The rover was an invaluable workhorse during the Apollo 15 mission, boosting the scope of how much of the lunar landscape around the Hadley-Apennine landing site the astronauts could explore.
Irwin stops the lunar rover from sliding downhill during the second Apollo 15 lunar EVA. Both of the rover's rear wheels appear to be off the ground. Scott was working on a fresh crater at the Apennine Front (Hadley Delta Mountain) when the vehicle started to slide down the 20 degree slope. Fortunately, the rover was stopped and the astronauts were able to continue their work.
When it came time for NASA’s LADEE spacecraft to put itself in orbit around the moon, the politics that put the U.S. government into a partial shutdown took a back seat to the physics of spaceflight.
The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, nicknamed LADEE, blasted off aboard a Minotaur 5 rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia, on Sept. 6, the first leg of a roundabout, month-long journey to the moon.
After circling Earth three times, the spacecraft on Sunday was finally in position for a make-or-break engine firing to slow its speed so that it could be captured by the moon’s gravity.
The maneuver could not be rescheduled for when furloughed government workers were back on the job.
“Thanks to NASA’s foresight and good project management within the LADEE team, essential personnel were immediately exempted from the shutdown and operations have continued normally,” deputy project scientist Greg Delory, with NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., wrote in an email to Discovery News.
LADEE successful fired its braking rocket for about four minutes. Delory says the maneuver went so well that a planned follow-on motor burn to tweak the orbit is not necessary.
“The spacecraft team continues to keep a close eye on LADEE’s systems to ensure that we’re in a good position to close in on our final science orbit as the mission progresses,” Delory wrote.
Scientists want to position LADEE into a near-circular, 155-mile high orbit to probe the tenuous envelope of gases that surrounds the moon and look for electrically charged dust rising from the lunar surface.
Before LADEE begins its science mission however, the spacecraft will test a prototype laser communications system NASA is developing for future missions, including a Mars rover scheduled to launch in 2020.
“There have as yet been no impacts on the commissioning phase due to the partial government shutdown (and this includes the laser communications demo),” Delory wrote.
Image: Artist’s impression of the LADEE spacecraft orbiting above the lunar surface. Credit: NASA