Take Nasa's lunar mission planning tool for a spin

Credit: Nasa/GSFC

Credit: Nasa/GSFC

Nasa’s Lunar Mapping and Modeling Project places the space agency’s archive of lunar data at your fingertips. Use data from the Apollo Program and modern lunar orbiter missions to evaluate potential landing sites for future human missions to the Moon.

Nasa's Ares launch vehicle was supposed to be the modern replacement for the Saturn V. Credit: Nasa/John Frassanito and Associates

Nasa's Ares launch vehicle was supposed to be the modern replacement for the Saturn V. Credit: Nasa/John Frassanito and Associates

During the first few years of this century Nasa’s scientists and engineers were building modern versions of the Saturn V, the Apollo Command Module, and the Lunar Excursion Module in preparation for America’s return to the Moon. Cost overruns, political changes, and Great Recession austerity led to the Constellation Program’s cancellation in 2010, but some of Constellation’s legacy survives in the Space Launch System and the Orion capsule.

The Lunar Mapping and Modeling Project is another Constellation legacy. Scientists at Nasa’s Marshall Space Flight Center created the project in anticipation of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s arrival at the Moon. The LRO’s cameras would provide the highest-resolution images taken of the Moon’s surface since the last Apollo mission with the express purpose of mapping potential landing sites for the Constellation Program’s first missions. 

The LMMP would let Nasa’s planners analyze the LRO data to:

  • Evaluate and select landing sites
  • Design landers and rovers
  • Develop terrain navigation systems
  • Plan astronauts’ science excursions
The zoomable map of the Moon also lets you look at the north and south poles - once candidates for America's return to the Moon. Credit: Nasa/GSFC

The zoomable map of the Moon also lets you look at the north and south poles - once candidates for America's return to the Moon. Credit: Nasa/GSFC

But the LMMP’s designers envisioned a much broader customer base including students and the general public. They created a web portal with an interface similar to Google Maps that lets you zoom into ever more detailed views of the Moon. Unlike Google Maps, you can overlay data that the Constellation Program used to plan lunar landings.

One edge of Mendeleev Crater on the Moon's far side has some of the most extreme changes in elevation from the crater's ridges (red) to the deep craters within the crater (purple). Credit: Nasa/GSFC

One edge of Mendeleev Crater on the Moon's far side has some of the most extreme changes in elevation from the crater's ridges (red) to the deep craters within the crater (purple). Credit: Nasa/GSFC

Four billion years of impacts from passing comets, asteroids, and meteoroids litter the Moon’s surface with craters and boulders. Landing the Altair lander, 5 times bigger than the Apollo LEM, was never going to be easy, but Nasa’s planners could use orbiter images to cut some of the risk. They used historical images to identify 50 potential landing sites for Constellation’s missions and then used the high-resolution LRO images to see how cratery and bouldery those sites really were. They also had to find sites flat enough for the Altair to land - if the surface sloped too much Altair would tip over. The LMMP viewer lets you overlay maps of crater and boulder density as well as elevation models to see how steeply potential landing sites sloped.

The Moon's surface shaded to shoe the distribution of iron in the lunar surface. Credit: Nasa/GSFC

The Moon's surface shaded to shoe the distribution of iron in the lunar surface. Credit: Nasa/GSFC

The LMMP viewer lets you overlay maps of crater and boulder density as well as elevation models to see how steeply potential landing sites sloped.

The whole point of landing on the Moon is to collect samples for scientific research that couldn’t be done with satellite data. A safe landing site far from anything interesting defeats the purpose. Nasa’s Clementine and Lunar Prospector missions carried instruments that detected 

Of course, a safe landing site doesn’t mean anything if there isn’t something nearby worth exploring. The LMMP lets you overlay data from the Clementine and Lunar Prospector missions to see minerals like iron, potassium, and thorium in the lunar surface.

Why not use the LMMP to plan your own mission to the Moon?



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