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NASA’s NEOWISE Celebrates 10 Years, Plans End of Mission


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NEOWISE is depicted in an artist’s concept in front of an image of the infrared sky captured by the mission showing asteroid Holda (the string of red dots moving across the sky). Holda was the first near-Earth object the mission detected shortly after the space telescope was reactivated in 2013.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

The asteroid and comet-hunting infrared space telescope has gathered an impressive haul of observations, but it’s now at the mercy of the Sun, which is accelerating its demise.

NASA’s NEOWISE has had a busy decade. Since its reactivated mission began on Dec. 13, 2013, the space telescope has discovered a once-in-a-lifetime comet, observed more than 3,000 near-Earth objects, bolstered international planetary defense strategies, and supported another NASA mission’s rendezvous with a distant asteroid. And that’s just a partial list of accomplishments.

But all good things must come to an end: Solar activity is causing NEOWISE – short for Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer – to fall out of orbit. By early 2025, the spacecraft is expected to drop low enough into Earth’s atmosphere that it will become unusable. Eventually, it will reenter our atmosphere, entirely burning up.

About every 11 years, the Sun experiences a cycle of increased activity that peaks during a period called solar maximum. Explosive events, such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections, become more frequent and heat up our planet’s atmosphere, causing it to expand. Atmospheric gases increase drag on satellites orbiting Earth, slowing them down. With the Sun currently approaching its next maximum, NEOWISE will no longer be able to maintain its orbit above our atmosphere.

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Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE appears as a trio of fuzzy red dots in this composite of several infrared images captured by the NEOWISE mission on March 27, 2020. These observations helped astronomers determine the comet’s path shortly after its discovery.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

“The mission has planned for this day a long time. After several years of calm, the Sun is waking back up,” said Joseph Masiero, NEOWISE’s deputy principal investigator and a scientist at IPAC, a research organization at Caltech in Pasadena, California. “We are at the mercy of solar activity, and with no means to keep us in orbit, NEOWISE is now slowly spiraling back to Earth.”

WISE Beginnings

The past 10 years represent a second life for the spacecraft. Managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, NEOWISE repurposed a different mission that launched in 2009: the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Data from WISE and NEOWISE has been used to study distant galaxies, cool stars, exploding white dwarf stars, outgassing comets, near-Earth asteroids, and more.

In 2010, WISE achieved its scientific goal of conducting an all-sky infrared survey with far greater sensitivity than previous surveys. The WISE mission also found tens of millions of actively feeding supermassive black holes across the sky. Through the Disk Detective project, citizen scientists have used WISE data to find circumstellar disks, which are spinning clouds of gas, dust, and rubble around stars.

Invisible to the naked eye, infrared wavelengths are emitted by warm objects. To keep the heat generated by WISE itself from interfering with its observations of infrared wavelengths, the spacecraft relied on cryogenic coolant. After the coolant ran out and WISE had mapped the sky twice, NASA put the spacecraft into hibernation in February 2011.

Without coolant, the space telescope could no longer observe the universe’s coldest objects, but it could still see near-Earth asteroids and comets, which are heated by the Sun. So NASA reactivated the spacecraft in 2013 with a more specialized role in mind: aiding planetary defense efforts by surveying and studying those objects, which can stray into our planet’s orbital neighborhood and create a potential impact hazard.

Astronomers could not only rely on the mission to seek out these objects, but also use its data to figure out their size and albedo – how much sunlight their surfaces reflect – and to gather clues about the minerals and rocks they’re composed of.

“NEOWISE has showcased the importance of having an infrared space survey telescope as part of NASA’s planetary defense strategy while also keeping tabs on other objects in the solar system and beyond,” said Amy Mainzer, the mission’s principal investigator at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Mainzer is also leading NASA’s upcoming NEO Surveyor, which will build on NEOWISE’s legacy. The next-generation infrared space telescope will seek out some of the hardest-to-find near-Earth objects, such as dark asteroids and comets that don’t reflect much visible light, as well as objects that approach Earth from the direction of the Sun. Scheduled for launch in 2027, the JPL-managed mission will also search for objects known as Earth Trojans – asteroids that lead or trail our planet’s orbit – the first of which WISE discovered in 2011.

Comet NEOWISE and Beyond

Since becoming NEOWISE, the mission has scanned the entire sky over 20 times and made 1.45 million infrared measurements of over 44,000 solar system objects. That includes more than 3,000 near-Earth objects, 215 of which NEOWISE discovered. Data from the mission has contributed to refining the orbits of these objects while gauging their size as well.

Its forte is characterizing near-Earth asteroids. In 2021, NEOWISE became a key component of an international planetary defense exercise that focused on the hazardous asteroid Apophis.

The mission has also discovered 25 comets, including the long-period comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE). The comet became a dazzling celestial object visible in the Northern Hemisphere for several weeks in 2020 and the first comet that could be seen by the naked eye since 2007, when Comet McNaught was primarily visible in the Southern Hemisphere.

Future researchers will continue to rely on the vast archive of NEOWISE observations to make new discoveries, similar to the way researchers used WISE data from 2010 long after the observations were made to characterize asteroid Dinkinesh in support of NASA’s Lucy mission before its October 2023 encounter.

“This is a bittersweet moment. It’s sad to see this trailblazing mission come to an end, but we know there’s more treasure hiding in the survey data,” said Masiero. “NEOWISE has a vast archive, covering a very long period of time, that will inevitably advance the science of the infrared universe long after the spacecraft is gone.”

More About the Mission

NEOWISE and NEO Surveyor support the objectives of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The NASA Authorization Act of 2005 directed NASA to discover and characterize at least 90% of the near-Earth objects more than 140 meters (460 feet) across that come within 30 million miles (48 million kilometers) of our planet’s orbit. Objects of this size can cause significant regional damage, or worse, should they impact the Earth.

JPL manages and operates the NEOWISE mission for PDCO within the Science Mission Directorate. The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, built the science instrument. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado, built the spacecraft. Science data processing takes place at IPAC at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about NEOWISE, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/neowise

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    • By NASA
      With the dress rehearsal completed during Apollo 10 in May 1969, only a few weeks remained until Apollo 11, the actual Moon landing mission to meet President Kennedy’s goal set in 1961. Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin and their backups James A. Lovell, William A. Anders, and Fred W. Haise entered the final phase of their training, rehearsing their mission in simulators and practicing for the lunar surface activities. Teams in Mission Control supported the simulations. A successful countdown demonstration cleared the way to start the actual countdown leading to launch. In the Pacific Ocean, U.S. Navy and NASA teams prepared for the recovery of the astronauts returning from the Moon, and for their postflight quarantine.
      Apollo 10
      After returning from their successful Moon landing dress rehearsal mission on May 26, 1969, Apollo 10 astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, John W. Young, and Eugene A. Cernan passed on their knowledge and lessons learned to the Apollo 11 Moon landing crew during postflight debriefs. On June 8, they accepted Emmy Awards on behalf of all Apollo crews for their television broadcasts from space, with special recognition for Apollo 10’s first use of color TV in space. On June 19, Stafford, Young, and Cernan returned to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida to thank the employees there for getting them safely into orbit. On June 30, President Richard M. Nixon hosted them and their wives at a White House black tie dinner in their honor.

      Left: Apollo 10 astronauts debrief their mission with the Apollo 11 astronauts. Middle: Apollo 10 astronauts John W. Young, left, Eugene A. Cernan, and Thomas P. Stafford hold their Emmy Awards. Right: At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, Stafford, left, Young, and Cernan hold photographs of their launch presented to them by KSC Launch Director Rocco A. Petrone.

      Apollo 10 astronauts Thomas P. Stafford, left, John W. Young, and Eugene A. Cernan wave to employees as they ride in a convertible through NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
      Apollo 11

      The document from NASA’s Office of Manned Space Flight stating Apollo 11’s primary objective.
      On June 26, Samuel C. Phillips, Apollo Program Director, and George E. Mueller, Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., signed the directive stating Apollo 11’s primary objective: perform a manned lunar landing and return. The focus of the crew’s training, and all the other preparatory activities happening across the agency, aimed at accomplishing that seemingly simple, yet in truth extremely complex and never before accomplished, task.

      Left: Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, left, and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin in the Lunar Module simulator at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Right: Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins in KSC’s Command Module simulator.

      Apollo 11 Flight Directors Eugene F. Kranz, left, Glynn S. Lunney, Clifford E. Charlesworth, Milton L. Windler, and Gerald D. Griffin pose in Mission Control.
      The final weeks leading up to the launch of their historic mission proved quite busy for Apollo 11 astronauts Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin and their backups Lovell, Anders, and Haise, as well as the ground teams preparing their rocket and spacecraft for flight. To train for the different phases of their mission, the astronauts conducted many sessions in Command Module (CM) and Lunar Module (LM) simulators at both the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), now NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, and at KSC. For many of these sessions, teams of operators in MSC’s Mission Control monitored their activities as they would during the actual mission. Flight Directors Eugene F. Kranz, left, Glynn S. Lunney, Clifford E. Charlesworth, Milton L. Windler, and Gerald D. Griffin led the Mission Control teams.

      Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, left, and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin practice their lunar surface activities at the Manned Spacecraft Center, now NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, left, and at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
      Apollo 11 would conduct the first spacewalk on another celestial body and only the second spacewalk of the Apollo program. At training facilities at MSC and KSC, Armstrong and Aldrin practiced setting up a television camera that would relay their activities back to Earth during the 2.5-hour excursion, deploying the three science experiments, and collecting rock and regolith samples for return to Earth.

      Left: Apollo 11 Commander Neil A. Armstrong prepares to fly the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV) at Ellington Air Force Base in Houston. Middle: Armstrong airborne in the LLTV. Right: Apollo 11 backup Commander James A. Lovell following a flight in the LLTV.
      On June 6, NASA managers approved the resumption of astronaut training flights in the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV) at Ellington Air Force Base (AFB) near MSC. The LLTV simulated the flight characteristics of the LM and astronauts used it to train for the final 200 feet of the descent to the lunar surface. Managers reached the decision after reviewing findings from the Review Board headed by astronaut Walter M. Schirra that investigated the Dec. 8, 1968 crash of LLTV-1 as well as results from flights in LLTV-2 made by MSC test pilots Harold E. “Bud” Ream and Jere B. Cobb. Between June 14 and 16, Armstrong flew LLTV-2 eight times to complete his training program with the vehicle. He had previously completed 12 simulated Moon landings in the LLTV and its predecessor, the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV), narrowly escaping the crash of LLRV-1 in May 1968. Backup Commander Lovell completed four flights in the LLTV between June 19 and July 1. Armstrong, Aldrin, Lovell, and Haise also practiced landings in the Lunar Landing Research Facility (LLRF) at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

      Left: Senior NASA managers monitor the Apollo 11 Countdown Demonstration Test (CDDT) in Firing Room 1 of the Launch Control Center at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Right: The team of controllers in Firing Room 1 monitor the Apollo 11 CDDT.

      Left: Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, front, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin about to board the transfer van to Launch Pad 39A for the Countdown Demonstration Test (CDDT). Middle: Workers in the White Room assist Collins, left, Armstrong, and Aldrin to enter their spacecraft for the CDDT. Right: Armstrong, left, Aldrin, and Collins leave Launch Pad 39A at the conclusion of the CDDT.
      At KSC, engineers completed the three-day Flight Readiness Test on June 6, ensuring the flight readiness of the Saturn V rocket and the Apollo spacecraft perched on Launch Pad 39A. On June 17, top managers from NASA Headquarters and the Directors of MSC, KSC, and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, held the Flight Readiness Review at KSC. The meeting reviewed all aspects of readiness for the launch and mission, clearing the way for the next milestone, the Countdown Demonstration Test (CDDT). The CDDT, a full dress rehearsal for the actual countdown to launch, consisted of two parts. The “wet” test, conducted from June 27 to July 2, included fueling the rocket as if for flight, with the countdown stopping just prior to first stage engine ignition, and did not involve the flight crew. The “dry” test followed on July 3, an abbreviated countdown without fueling the rocket but with the astronauts boarding the CM as if on launch day. Controllers in Firing Room 1 of the Launch Control Center at Launch Complex 39 monitored all aspects of the CDDT as they would for an actual countdown. The successful test cleared the way for the start of the launch countdown at 8 p.m. EDT on July 10, leading to launch on July 16.

      The three commemorative items carried aboard Apollo 11. Left: The Lunar Flag Assembly. Middle: The stainless steel commemorative plaque. Right: The silicon disc containing messages of goodwill from world leaders.
      On July 2, NASA announced that Armstrong and Aldrin would leave three symbolic items behind on the Moon to commemorate the historic first landing – an American flag, a commemorative plaque, and a silicon disc bearing messages from world leaders. The astronauts would plant the three-by-five-foot flag near their LM during their spacewalk. The stainless steel plaque bore the images of the two hemispheres of the Earth and this inscription,
      HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH
      FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON
      JULY 1969 A.D.
      WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND
      The signatures of the three astronauts and President Richard M. Nixon also appeared on the plaque. Workers mounted it on the forward landing leg strut of the LM. The one-and-one-half-inch silicon disc contained messages of goodwill from 73 world leaders, etched on the disk using the technique to make microcircuits for electronic equipment. The crew placed the disc on the lunar surface at the end of their spacewalk.

      Left: Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, left, Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins hold a copy of the commemorative plaque they will leave behind on the Moon and their mission patch. Right: The Apollo 11 astronauts in the glass-enclosed room at the Lunar Receiving Laboratory.
      During a July 5 press conference in the MSC auditorium, the Apollo 11 astronauts revealed the call signs for their spacecraft. They named their CM Columbia and their LM Eagle. “We selected these as being representative of the flight, the nation’s hope,” said Armstrong. Columbia served as a national symbol represented by a statue atop the Capitol in Washington, D.C. They named the LM after the symbol of the United States, the bald eagle, featured on the Apollo 11 mission patch. In a second event, the astronauts answered reporters’ questions from inside a glass-enclosed conference room at MSC’s Lunar Receiving Laboratory (LRL). After their mission, the returning astronauts completed their 21-day quarantine in the LRL to prevent any back contamination of the Earth by any possible lunar microorganisms.

      NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, workers simulate the arrival of the first Moon rocks and other items returned from Apollo 11. Middle: Workers practice docking the Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) with the LRL. Right: In Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, workers barge the prime and backup MQFs to load them onto the U.S.S. Hornet. Image credit: courtesy U.S. Navy.
      At the LRL, other preparations for the return of the Apollo 11 astronauts from the Moon included a simulation of the arrival and processing of the Moon rocks and other items following the mission. The rocks, crew biological samples, and film would be flown from the prime recovery ship to Houston ahead of the crew. Engineers and technicians also rehearsed the arrival of the crew with a dry run of docking a Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) to the LRL’s loading dock. Following the test, workers loaded two MQFs, a prime and a backup, onto a cargo plane for transport to Hawaii and loading onto the prime recovery ship.

      Left: Workers in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, prepare to lift a boilerplate Apollo Command Module onto the U.S.S. Hornet for splashdown and recovery rehearsals. Image credit: courtesy U.S. Navy Bob Fish. Middle: Crews from the U.S.S. Hornet practice recovery operations. Right: Recovery team members dry their Biological Isolation Garments aboard the U.S.S. Hornet following a recovery exercise.
      On June 12, the U.S. Navy notified NASA that it had selected the U.S.S. Hornet (CVS-12) as the prime recovery ship for Apollo 11 to undertake the most complex recovery of an astronaut crew. The same day, with Hornet docked in her home port of Long Beach, California, its commanding officer, Capt. Carl J. Seiberlich, held the first recovery team meeting to review the Apollo Recovery Operations Manual, written by MSC’s Landing and Recovery Division. Between June 12 and 25, Hornet onloaded NASA equipment required for the recovery. On June 27, Hornet left Long Beach for a three-hour stop in San Diego, where air group maintenance and support personnel embarked. The next day, after Hornet left for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, pilots flew the aircraft required to support the recovery onto the carrier. During the cruise to Pearl Harbor, Hornet’s 90-man team detailed for Apollo 11 recovery operations held numerous meetings and table-top simulations. After arriving in Hawaii on July 2, workers loaded a boilerplate Apollo capsule onto the aircraft carrier to be used for recovery practice. The NASA recovery team, the Frogmen swimmers from the U.S. Navy’s Underwater Demolition Team 11 (UDT-11) who assisted with the recovery, and some media personnel arrived onboard. For the recovery operation, Capt. Seiberlich adopted the motto “Hornet Plus Three,” indicating the goal of a safe recovery of the three astronauts returning from the Moon. On July 3, Capt. Seiberlich introduced the 35-member NASA recovery team to the Hornet’s crew. Donald E. Stullken, Chief of the Recovery Operations Branch at MSC and inventor of the inflatable flotation collar attached by swimmers to the capsule after splashdown, led the NASA team. His assistant John C. Stonesifer oversaw the decontamination and quarantine operations. Stullken and Stonesifer briefed Hornet’s Command Module Retrieval Team on all events associated with the recovery and retrieval of an Apollo capsule and its crew. On July 6, workers loaded the two MQFs aboard Hornet. The prime MQF would house the returning astronauts, a flight surgeon, and an engineer from shortly after splashdown until their arrival at the LRL in Houston several days later. The second MQF served as a backup should a problem arise with the first or if violations of quarantine protocols required additional personnel to be isolated. Along with the MQFs, Navy personnel loaded other equipment necessary for the recovery, including 55 one-gallon containers of sodium hypochlorite to be used as a disinfectant. Between July 7 and 9, the Hornet conducted nine Simulated Recovery Exercises in local Hawaiian waters. Lieutenant Clarence J. “Clancy” Hatleberg led the team as the designated decontamination swimmer with U.S. Navy Frogmen serving as stand-ins for the astronauts, all wearing Biological Isolation Garments as they would on recovery day. The Hornet returned to Pearl Harbor to pick up the rest of the NASA recovery team before setting sail on July 12 for its first recovery position. 
      Apollo 12

      Left: Apollo 12 astronauts Charles “Pete” Conrad, left, Alan L. Bean, and Richard F. Gordon prepare to enter their Command Module for an altitude test. Right: Conrad after completing a flight in the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle.

      Left: In the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building (MSOB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, workers finish attaching the landing gear to the Apollo 12 Lunar Module (LM). Middle left: Workers in the MSOB prepare to mate the Apollo 12 Command and Service Modules with the Spacecraft LM Adapter. Middle right: Workers move the assembled Apollo 12 spacecraft from the MSOB to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Right: In the VAB. workers lower the Apollo 12 spacecraft onto its Saturn V rocket.
      With Apollo 11 on its launch pad, workers continued to prepare Apollo 12 for its eventual journey to the Moon, targeting a September launch should Apollo 11 not succeed. If Apollo 11 succeeded in its Moon landing mission, Apollo 12 would fly later, most likely in November, to attempt the second Moon landing at a different location. In KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the three-stage Saturn V stood on its Mobile Launcher, awaiting the arrival of the Apollo spacecraft. In the nearby Manned Spacecraft Operations Building, the Apollo 12 prime crew of Charles “Pete” Conrad, Richard F. Gordon, and Alan L. Bean and their backups David R. Scott, Alfred M. Worden, and James B. Irwin completed altitude chamber tests of the CM and LM during the first two weeks of June. Workers removed the spacecraft from the vacuum chambers, mated them on June 27, and transferred them to the VAB on July 1 for stacking on the Saturn V rocket. At Ellington AFB in Houston, Conrad completed his first flights aboard LLTV-2 on July 9-10.
      Apollo 13

      Left: In the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, workers place the first stage of the Apollo 13 Saturn V rocket onto the Mobile Launcher to begin the stacking process. Middle: The Apollo 13 Command and Service Modules arrive at KSC. Right: The ascent stage of the Apollo 13 Lunar Module arrives at KSC.
      In the event that neither Apollo 11 nor 12 succeeded in landing on the Moon, NASA stood prepared to try a third time with Apollo 13 in November or December, still in time to meet President Kennedy’s deadline. The Apollo 13 Command and Service Modules arrived at KSC on June 26, followed by the LM ascent and descent stages on June 28 and 29, respectively. The Saturn V’s S-IC first stage arrived on June 16 and workers placed it on its Mobile Launcher two days later. The S-IVB third stage and S-II second stage arrived June 13 and 29, respectively, and workers stacked the stages in mid-July.
      To be continued …
      News from around the world in June 1969:
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      June 3 – The final episode of Star Trek airs on NBC.
      June 5 – The Tupolev Tu-144 became the first passenger jet to fly faster than the speed of sound.
      June 10 – The Nixon Administration cancels the U.S. Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory program.
      June 15 – “Hee Haw,” with Roy Clark and Buck Owens, premieres on CBS.
      June 20 – Georges Pompidou sworn in as the 19th President of France.
      June 20 – 200,000 attend Newport ’69, then largest-ever pop concert, in Northridge, California.
      June 23 – Warren E. Burger sworn in as U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice.
      June 28 – Police carry out a raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York, beginning the modern LGBT rights movement.
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      Left: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), top, silver, and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), bottom, gold, spacecraft during placement inside the launch shroud. Right: Launch of LRO and LCROSS on an Atlas V rocket.
      The LRO spacecraft carries seven scientific instruments:
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      Left: Illustration of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and its scientific instruments. Right: Illustration of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite and its scientific instruments on panel at left.
      The LCROSS Shepherding Satellite carried nine instruments – five cameras (one visible, two near-infrared, and two mid-infrared); three spectrometers (one visible and two near-infrared); and a photometer. They monitored the plume sent up by the impact of the Centaur upper stage.

      Left: Illustration of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in lunar orbit. Right: Illustration of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite’s Shepherding Satellite at left and Centaur upper stage at right prior to lunar impact.
      On June 23, 2009, after a four-and-a-half-day journey from Earth, LRO entered an elliptical polar orbit around the Moon. Over the next four days, four engine burns refined the spacecraft’s orbit and engineers on the ground began commissioning its instruments. The LROC returned its first image of the Moon on June 30 of an area near the Mare Nubium. On Sept. 15, 2009, LRO began its primary one-year mission to map the lunar surface from its science orbit 31 miles above the Moon.  
      On Oct. 9, 2009, first the Centaur upper stage followed five minutes later by the LCROSS Shepherding Satellite crashed into the Moon’s Cabeus Crater near the lunar south pole. Although the impacts created smaller plumes than anticipated, instruments detected signs of water in the ejected debris.
      In September 2010, LRO completed its primary mapping mission and began an extended science mission around the Moon. On Dec. 17, NASA released the most detailed topographic map covering more than 98 percent of the Moon’s surface based on data from LRO’s LOLA instrument. The map continues to be updated as new data are received from the spacecraft. On March 15, 2011, LRO had made available more than 192 terabytes of data from its primary mission to the NASA Planetary Data System, or PDS, to make the information available to researchers, students, media, and the general public. LRO  continues to deliver data to the PDS, having generated the largest volume of data from a NASA planetary science mission ever.

      Left: First high-resolution image of the Moon taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Middle: Mosaic of LRO images of the Moon’s near side. Right: Mosaic of LRO images of the Moon’s far side.

      Left: Mosaic of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) images of the lunar north pole. Right: Mosaic of LRO images of the lunar south pole.
      The LCROSS data showed that the lunar soil within shadowy craters is rich in useful materials, such as hydrogen gas, ammonia, and methane, which could be used to produce fuel for space missions. Large amounts of light metals, such as sodium, mercury, and silver, were discovered. The data revealed that there is perhaps as much as hundreds of millions of tons of frozen water on the Moon, enough to make it an effective oasis for future explorers.
      Thanks to its unique vantage point in a low altitude lunar orbit, LRO’s camera has taken remarkably detailed images of all six Apollo landing sites. The detail is such that not only can the Lunar Module (LM) descent stages be clearly identified, but disturbances of the lunar soil by the astronauts’ boots, the shadows of the American flag are visible at five of the landing sites, and the Lunar Rovers from the last three missions are even visible. The scientific instruments, and in at least three of the landing sites, the U.S. flag left by the astronauts can be discerned. The flag at the Apollo 11 site cannot be seen because it most likely was blown over by the exhaust of the LM’s ascent stage engine when the astronauts lifted off. In addition to the Apollo landing sites, LRO has also imaged crash and soft-landing sites of other American, Soviet, Chinese, Indian, and Israeli spacecraft, including craters left by the deliberate impacts of Apollo S-IVB upper stages. It also imaged a Korean satellite in lunar orbit as the two flew within a few miles of each other at high speed. LRO also turned its camera Earthward to catch stunning Earthrise views, one image with Mars in the background, and the Moon’s shadow on the Earth during the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

      Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images of the Apollo 11, left, 12, and 14 landing sites.

      Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images of the Apollo 15, left, 16, and 17 landing sites.

      Left: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) image of Luna 17 that landed on the Moon on Nov. 17, 1970, and the tracks of the Lunokhod 1 rover that it deployed. Middle: LRO image of the Chang’e 4 lander and Yutu 2 rover that landed on the Moon’s far side on Jan. 3, 2019. Right: LRO image of the Chandrayaan 3 lander taken four days after it landed on the Moon on Aug. 23, 2023.

      Left: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) image of Odysseus that landed on the Moon on Feb. 22, 2024. Middle: LRO image taken on March 5, 2024, of the Danuri lunar orbiting satellite as the two passed within 3 miles of each other at a relative velocity of 7,200 miles per hour. Right: LRO image of the Chang’e 6 lander on the Moon’s farside, taken on June 7, 2024.

      Left: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) image of Earthrise over Compton Crater taken Oct. 12, 2015. Middle: LRO image of Earth and Mars taken Oct. 2, 2014. Right: LRO image of the total solar eclipse taken on April 8, 2024.
      The LRO mission continues with the spacecraft returning images and data from its instruments. LRO has enough fuel on board to operate until 2027. The spacecraft can support new robotic lunar activities and the knowledge from the mission will help aid in the return of humans to the lunar surface. 
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    • By NASA
      Maya FarrHenderson’s first day at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston involved the usual new hire setup and training tasks, but also something special: A tour of the CHAPEA (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog) and HERA (Human Exploration Research Analog) habitats.

      “It was such a thrill to start my career at NASA standing in a simulated Martian habitat. It felt like a look toward the future – a reminder of this is where we are going,” she said.

      Maya FarrHenderson stands outside of the CHAPEA (Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog) habitat at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Image courtesy of Maya FarrHenderson As a contract research coordinator working with the Behavioral Health and Performance Laboratory under the Human Health and Performance Contract, FarrHenderson directly contributes to both CHAPEA and HERA. She supports data collection and analysis for multiple research projects conducted in those analog environments, as well as in-flight research aboard the International Space Station. “Our work excites me because we have the opportunity to answer questions that will support long-duration spaceflight missions and future missions to Mars,” she said. “It is gratifying to know our research can build an evidence base that will help promote both physiological and mental health and reduce risks related to human spaceflight.”

      FarrHenderson enjoys the dynamic nature of her role, noting that aspects of her work can change on a weekly basis. “I also work with different labs and teams apart from my own, and I always find it interesting to see the varying perspectives and approaches to problem solving that come from different disciplines,” she said.

      FarrHenderson is relatively new to NASA – she joined the Johnson team in April 2023 – but she has already connected with several of the center’s employee resource groups (ERGs) and currently serves as the Out & Allied ERG’s (OAERG) membership secretary. “Being on the leadership team for Out & Allied has really helped me jump in feet first,” she said. Her role involves creating social events for the ERG’s members and the broader Johnson community. “It can be a small thing, but I believe our events create spaces for people to feel safe and celebrated among coworkers and friends.”

      Maya FarrHenderson sits in a mockup of NASA’s space exploration vehicle concept.Image courtesy of Maya FarrHenderson FarrHenderson speaks from personal experience. When she started at NASA, she was uncertain if she would feel safe being out at work, but seeing how active OAERG was and how the agency celebrated LGBTQI+ Pride Month made her feel much more comfortable. Joining the ERG’s leadership team also enabled her to meet people across different organizations and gain a better understanding of the Johnson and NASA community.

      She understands that some colleagues may hesitate to join an ERG because they do not identify as part of the community the group represents, but those individuals could still be allies. “Allies have a critical responsibility to aid progress in diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) initiatives,” she said. “OAERG even has ally in the name, that is how important it is to be there for groups you are not necessarily a part of. Listen and learn from members, determine how you can collaborate, and follow through.”

      FarrHenderson believes that leadership’s support for ERGs and facilitation of events like Johnson’s recent DEIA Day have created a welcoming environment. Ensuring the center’s facilities reflect that environment, including increasing gender-neutral bathroom availability onsite, would promote even greater inclusivity, she said. She also encourages team members to use every opportunity to support those who are underrepresented. “Allyship and collaboration are truly key,” she said. “It is lots and lots of small moments that contribute to a more equitable and inclusive environment.”
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    • By NASA
      Michael Chandler has provided configuration and data management support at Houston’s Johnson Space Center for the last 13 years. After roughly seven years supporting the Exploration Systems Development Division, Chandler transitioned to the Moon to Mars Program Office in 2019. He and his team work to ensure that the baseline for Moon to Mars products, like agreements and documents, is appropriately controlled and that configuration and data management processes are integrated across the office’s six programs – Orion, Gateway, EHP, Space Launch System, Human Landing system, and Exploration Ground Systems.

      “The most rewarding part of my job is not only the magnitude of what I have the privilege of working on every day, returning humans to the surface of the Moon, but also the experience I get in working with such a diverse group of members of the aerospace community,” said Chandler, a contractor with The Aerospace Corporation. “It’s also so rewarding to work as a team on a common goal and to look forward to the work I do every day!”

      Portrait of Michael Chandler onsite at Johnson Space Center. NASA/Noah Moran Chandler has been an active member of the Out & Allied Employee Resource Group (OAERG) since 2018 and says his involvement with the group led to some groundbreaking life events. “I was very shy and reticent about revealing who I was until I got involved with Out & Allied,” he said. “I now believe that being ‘out’ is a way to support and encourage others to be themselves.”

      Chandler learned about OAERG while attending a training about how to be an ally for the LGBTQ+ community. In his first year with the group, he helped organize a panel discussion on allyship and creating safe workplaces. He then became co-chair of OAERG’s Pride Committee, working with ERG colleagues and others to plan the group’s LGBTQ+ Pride Month events and participation in Houston’s annual Pride Parade. “I had a wonderful experience managing events and bringing everyone together for Pride,” he said – efforts that earned him a Trailblazer Award.

      Chandler said he has grown personally and professionally through his involvement with OAERG. “I was very shy and kind of uptight at the first meeting that I went to, but everyone was so kind and accepting, and I slowly started taking on responsibilities and planning events,” he said. “These activities helped me grow as a communicator and a leader in my regular work and personal life.”

      Michael Chandler (left) stands with fellow Out & Allied Employee Resource Group members, waiting for the Houston Pride Parade to begin. Image courtesy of Michael Chandler Chandler belongs to other employee resource groups (ERGs) at Johnson to support different communities and find opportunities to collaboratively promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at the center, and he encourages others to do the same. “Even if you only participate when you have time, it can lead to knowledge and ways to support other communities that have the same challenges in this world,” he said.

      Chandler has been impressed with agency and center leadership’s involvement in DEI efforts and support for ERGs to date. He suggested that increased communication around DEI initiatives may help to quell anxieties about the political landscape and developments outside of NASA by reassuring team members that their employer supports them for who they are. He believes that every person at Johnson can help create an inclusive environment by being respectful, listening with an open heart, and joining the fight to ensure that everyone can be themselves.

      “The most important thing is that everyone needs to be their true self,” he said. “It’s so rewarding and makes life so much more fun!”
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