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The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon
FIGURE 4.1 Image mosaic across the northwest part of South Pole-Aitken Basin obtained by the Advanced Moon Micro-Imager Experiment camera onboard the SMART-1 spacecraft. The subdued 76 km crater Oresme is of Nectarian age. The small, sharp, kilometer-scale features to the northwest that are oriented in several directions are of unknown origin. SOURCE: Courtesy of the European Space Agency/SMART-1 and the Space Exploration Institute.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is scheduled for launch in the fall of 2008. LRO’s goals are to improve the lunar geodetic network,1 evaluate the polar areas, and study the lunar radiation environment. A secondary payload, Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), launched with LRO, will result in an impact into a polar region target with coordinated analysis. After the first year of measurements, the LRO instruments will be operated to maximize the science return. NASA’s plans for the next step of robotic exploration are currently not specified.
The group of four missions described above, having highly sophisticated sensors, will produce an unprecedented array of exceptionally valuable data for the Moon. There are several unique instruments on each spacecraft that give each mission its own flavor and scientific emphasis. There are also a number of similar instruments on different spacecraft that provide an excellent opportunity for cross calibration and validation between missions. All of these international participants in lunar exploration have expressed their intention of publicly releasing data returned (typically 1 year later) in a compatible format that will allow fruitful comparisons and the planning of international lunar exploration.
As we embark on this new era of detailed lunar exploration, several other nations have expressed a serious intent to participate with additional orbital spacecraft sent to the Moon in the near future: Russia, Germany, Italy, and perhaps Great Britain and Ukraine. After the initial orbital missions of Japan, China, and India, the intended next steps by these nations have been publicly stated to be landed in situ experiments or sample return.
Establishing a precision geodetic coordinate system is essential for the cartographic needs of both exploration and science. With the tremendous amounts of data expected to begin arriving with LRO (over 350 terabytes), setting a uniform standard for lunar data sets is essential and urgent, given the LRO launch date.