NASA Moon Probe Laser-Blasts Europe!
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.
NASA’s LADEE probe entered lunar orbit last month ready to study the moon’s enigmatic exosphere — a region that holds some dusty secrets. But LADEE (which stands for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) isn’t your average satellite; it’s sporting a powerful laser and Europe is in its cross hairs!
Of course, this laser isn’t being used for nefarious (pew pew) purposes. It’s a brand new means of transmitting data through space, potentially revolutionizing how interplanetary communications will be carried out in the future.
In contrast to traditional radio communications between spacecraft and Earth-based antennae, laser communications are like what today’s Internet broadband is to dial-up of the 1990′s. In fact, with a data transfer rate of 40 Mbit/s, LADEE’s laser link to Earth is “several times faster than a typical home broadband connection,” said Zoran Sodnik, ESA’s project manager for laser communications between the European Space Agency and LADEE.
Since Oct. 26, LADEE has been in laser communications with ESA’s Optical Ground Station located on Tenerife, one of Spain’s Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. The system has been upgraded with an advanced laser terminal so the ground station can communicate with the NASA mission some 400,000 kilometers (250,000 miles) distant, according to a news release.
The LADEE laser, which operates with extremely focused beams of near-infrared light, made history on Oct. 18 when it became the first mission to transmit data via laser through interplanetary space, communicating with a NASA receiving station at White Sands, New Mexico, from the moon. The laser is also communicating with a receiver at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and now with the ESA’s Optical Ground Station.
“The participation of the ESA ground terminal at Tenerife in NASA’s project is an important milestone in this new capability,” said Badri Younes, deputy associate administrator for space communications and navigation at NASA’s Headquarters in Washington DC. “Together, we have demonstrated at the very beginning of the optical communication era the value of interoperable communication between our space agencies.”
So, apart from sounding as if it’s been pulled directly from the pages of science fiction, this recent development in laser communications could transform the way in which we communicate with missions throughout the solar system (and beyond). Perhaps we’ve already solved the streaming video problem for future Mars colonists…
Image: LADEE laser light seen by an ESA infrared camera. Credit: ESA