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    • By NASA
      The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) launched together from Cape Canaveral Air Force, now Space Force, Station on June 18, 2009, atop an Atlas V launch vehicle. The primary mission of the LRO, managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, involved imaging the entire Moon’s surface to create a 3-D map with ~50-centimeter resolution to aid in the planning of future robotic and crewed missions. In addition, LRO would map the polar regions and search for the presence of water ice. Although its primary mission intended to last only one year, it continues to operate after 15 years in lunar orbit. The LCROSS, managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, planned to further investigate the presence of water ice in permanently shaded areas of the Moon’s polar regions. The two components of LCROSS, the Centaur upper stage of the launch vehicle and the Shepherding Satellite, planned to deliberately crash into the Moon. Instruments on Earth and aboard LRO and the LCROSS Shepherding Satellite would observe the resulting plumes and analyze them for the presence of water.

      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:
      the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER) to characterize the lunar radiation environment; the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment (DLRE) to identify areas cold enough to trap ice; the Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project (LMAP) to search for ice in the lunar polar regions; the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector (LEND) to create a map of hydrogen distribution and to determine the neutron component of the lunar radiation environment; the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) to measure slopes and roughness of potential landing sites; the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) consisting of two-narrow angle and one wide-angle camera to take high-resolution images of the lunar surface; and the Mini Radio Frequency (Mini-RF) experiment, an advanced radar system to image the polar regions and search for water ice.
      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. 
      View the full article
    • By European Space Agency
      Image: The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over a section of Italy’s heel in the southern part of the boot-shaped peninsula. View the full article
    • By NASA
      This article tells the story of one small American flag fortunate enough to be singled out from a group of one thousand flags just like it and embark on an incredible journey. The other 999 flags likely ended up as gifts, but this one flag had a loftier fate. It wasn’t the first American flag to ride on a crewed spacecraft into space, that one flew aboard Freedom 7 with Alan B. Shepard on May 5, 1961. Or the most famous flag that went into space, the Stars and Stripes planted on the Moon by Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin on July 20, 1969, holds that honor. Other American flags have even flown on spacecraft not just to other planets but out of the solar system entirely. And tens of thousands of other small flags have thundered into space aboard space shuttles and returned to Earth for distribution around the world. So what makes this one small flag, known as the Legacy Flag, so special?

      Left: Launch of space shuttle Columbia on the STS-1 mission, April 12, 1981. Right: Landing of Columbia, April 14, 1981.
      Space shuttle Columbia first lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on April 12, 1981, to usher in a new era of reusable crewed space transportation. It carried not only its two pilots, John W. Young and Robert L. Crippen, but also the Official Flight Kit (OFK), stowed away in the lockers in the shuttle’s middeck, along with food, clothing and other supplies. Many of the OFK items, including 1,000 8-by-12-inch American flags, were destined for distribution after the mission to commemorate its historic significance. Once they returned to Earth and workers removed them from the shuttle’s middeck, NASA distributed many of the flags to various people and organizations. But some remained and ended up in storage at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. As the shuttle program progressed over the next 30 years, the number of flags in storage dwindled as additional recipients were identified. Finally, in 2011 it was time for the last shuttle mission, STS-135, and NASA felt it a fitting tribute to refly one of the flags from STS-1 on the final flight. Since STS-135 delivered supplies to the International Space Station, the flag would remain on board until the next time an American spacecraft carrying American astronauts launched from American soil arrived at the station. At the time, no one knew exactly how long that would take.

      Left: Launch of STS-135, July 8, 2011. Right: The crew of STS-135 pose with the Legacy Flag on the flight deck of Atlantis.
      On July 8, 2011, space shuttle Atlantis lifted off to begin STS-135, the final mission of the program with Christopher J. Ferguson, Douglas G. Hurley, Sandra H. Magnus, and Rex J. Walheim aboard, and two days later they docked with the station. The six international crewmembers of Expedition 28 welcomed them aboard. The long-term plan for the little flag was publicly revealed during a live TV session between the crew and President Barack H. Obama. “I also understand that Atlantis brought a unique American flag up to the station,” said President Obama. Shuttle Commander Ferguson explained that before their departure they would present the flag to the crew aboard the station, where “it will hopefully maintain a position of honor until the next vehicle launched from U.S. soil brings U.S. astronauts up to dock with the space station.”

      Left: The crews of STS-135 and Expedition 28 pose with the Legacy Flag. Right: The crews of STS-135 and Expedition 28 place the Legacy Flag on the hatch of the Harmony module.
      On July 18, near the end of the docked phase of STS-135, during a televised ceremony the crews placed the flag, flanked by the patches of the first and last space shuttle missions, on the forward hatch of the Harmony module, from where Atlantis would soon depart and where the next American crewed spacecraft would dock. After the shuttle and its crew left, the flag remained on the hatch for a while, but as time passed, onboard crews needed to use that area for stowage and so they moved it to a nearby wall for safekeeping. In 2015, to further safeguard the flag against damage or loss, Mission Control asked the onboard crew to place it in a stowage bag. As sometimes happens with stowage bags, this one moved around and ended up in a different module of the station. Three years later, during a general inventory of stowage bags, the crew found the flag and placed in a Ziploc bag with the words “Flown on STS-1 & STS-135. Only to be removed by crew launching from KSC” attached.

      Left: The Legacy Flag, placed between the STS-1 and STS-135 patches on the Harmony module’s forward hatch as Atlantis prepared to depart. Middle: In May 2014, during Expedition 40, astronauts mounted the flag on a wall near the Harmony module’s hatch to allow that area to be used for stowage. Right: The Legacy Flag in July 2018 during Expedition 56, placed in a Ziploc bag for safety.
      On May 30, 2020, a Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from KSC’s Launch Pad 39A, the same pad used for STS-1 and STS-135, carrying SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule on its Demo 2 mission. Aboard were Doug Hurley, who flew aboard the last shuttle mission, and Robert L. Behnken, the first American astronauts launched aboard an American spacecraft from American soil since STS-135. Once in orbit, Hurley and Behnken announced that they had christened their spacecraft Endeavour. The next day, Endeavour docked with the station, and Hurley and Behnken came aboard, welcomed by Expedition 63 Commander NASA astronaut Christopher J. Cassidy and Flight Engineers Anatoli A. Ivanishin and Ivan V.  Vagner representing Roscosmos. Mounted on the open hatch as they floated aboard the station was our intrepid little flag, in space for nine years, and 39 years after making its first trip into space. After their arrival, Cassidy, Hurley and Behnken held a press conference and proudly displayed the flag and how it stood as a symbol of the return of American launch capability. The flag’s nine-year journey came to end when Hurley and Behnken brought it back to Earth on Aug. 2, 2020. The flag first went on display at SpaceX’s facility in Hawthorne, California, then toured the country for a few months, making its final public appearance at the World Petroleum Congress in Houston in December 2021. Currently in storage at JSC, the Legacy Flag will fly again, possibly on even more distant journeys.

      Left: The Harmony module’s forward hatch bearing the Legacy Flag, opened to welcome the SpaceX Demo 2 crew. Middle: NASA astronauts Robert L. Behnken, left, Douglas G. Hurley (holding the Legacy Flag), and Christopher J. Cassidy during a press conference. Right: The Legacy Flag in its display case after its return to Earth.
      During its time on the space station, the Legacy Flag saw 100 visitors from many nationalities come and go, some of them more than once. Most stayed six months, some stayed longer, up to almost one year. A few made short visits of about a week. During all that time, the space station remained a busy beehive of activity, with hundreds of experiments conducted by the international crews. Many astronauts ventured outside, to repair equipment, place new experiments out, or bring older ones back inside. And in that time, the flag traveled more than 1.3 billion miles. 
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    • By NASA
      4 Min Read Flag Day – One Small Flag’s Incredible Journey
      This article is for students grades 5-8.
      This story tells the tale of one small American flag fortunate enough to embark on an incredible journey. It wasn’t the first flag to ride into space, or the most famous flag that went into space — that honor probably goes to the Stars and Stripes planted on the Moon by the Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969. So what makes this one little flag so special? Let’s let the flag tell its own story.
      Here I am launching into space aboard the space shuttle Columbia for the first time in 1981.Credits: NASA Workers packed me away with many other small flags like me – there must have been a thousand of us – just 8-by-12-inch Stars and Stripes, in a locker aboard space shuttle Columbia. We took off on STS-1, the shuttle’s very first mission in 1981, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Although we couldn’t see anything, we could feel the vibrations and noises of the liftoff, the ride a bit rough for the first two minutes, then much smoother until we reached space. Once in orbit, we could hear the two astronauts working as they tested the new spaceship.
      And two days later, I’m back on Earth!Credits: NASA Then after just two days, we came home, making a smooth landing in California. Thirty years later, someone had the idea to send me into space again, this time on the very last space shuttle mission, STS-135. And this time I would be making a much longer trip, since I would be left aboard the International Space Station.
      Here I am starting my second trip into space in 2011, this time aboard the space shuttle Atlantis.Credits: NASA So I roared off into space again in 2011, this time aboard space shuttle Atlantis. I had four friends to keep me company, Chris Ferguson, Doug Hurley, Sandy Magnus, and Rex Walheim. They actually took me out of my locker, and we all took pictures together. That made me feel really special.
      Here I am posing with my friends Doug, Chris, Sandy, and Rex aboard Atlantis.Credits: NASA But there was more in store for me: Two days after our launch we arrived at the space station; wow, what a huge place this was! I met even more astronauts here, from America, Russia, and Japan! President Barack Obama called to congratulate the crews, and I heard him talking about me and what a unique American flag I was. I would have a position of honor aboard the station until the next team of Americans arrived aboard an American spacecraft launched from American soil. I couldn’t have been more proud! 
      Here I am with all 10 crewmembers aboard the station, from America, Russia, and Japan.Credits: NASA And here I am, taking my position of honor on the space station’s hatch.Credits :NASA The astronauts made a TV show and I was the star. They placed me in my position of honor on the forward hatch of the space station, between the patches of the first and last space shuttle missions. I stayed on the hatch for a while, but as no spacecraft arrived through that portal for a few years, the crews needed the space to store their stuff.
      Here I am between the STS-1 and STS-135 patches on the station’s forward hatch.Credits: NASA Worried I might be injured, they slipped me into a plastic cover and placed me on a wall near the hatch. People grew concerned about me and thought it would be good to put me away in storage for safekeeping, at least temporarily, so that’s what happened. And while I waited, the bag I was in got moved around, and after a few years, people weren’t really sure where I was. But luckily, they found me and placed me in a safer bag and wrote these words, “Flown on STS-1 & STS-135. Only to be removed by crew launching from KSC,” to let everyone know I was that special flag.
      Later I was moved to a nearby wall.Credits: NASA Later still, placed in a Ziploc bag for safety, with the words to let everyone know I was that special flag.Credits: NASA Two more years went by, and I began to hear rumblings that I might be needed again. My newest friend on the space station, Chris Cassidy, cleared out the area around the hatch. Was I about to resume my position of honor? Excitement was building, and Chris and his two crewmates, Anatoli Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner prepared the station for its newest arrivals. Apparently two Americans had launched aboard an American spacecraft from American soil, the first time in nine years.
      Here I am welcoming the SpaceX Demo 2 crew.Credits: NASA Doug is holding me up to the camera during a press conference.Credits: NASA My long wait was over! Chris placed me on the now-open hatch, and first Bob Behnken and then Doug Hurley, my old friend from Atlantis, floated inside the station! I was there to welcome them aboard! Once again, I starred in another TV show. After returning to Earth with Doug and Bob – I’m told I had traveled 1.3 billion miles – I went on display in several places. And now I hear rumblings of another possibly more distant journey awaiting me. We’ll just have to see.
      Here I am all dressed up for public display after my return to Earth.Credits: NASA Share
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      ESA is getting ready to show thousands of visitors how space improves life on Earth at its very first open day to be held in the UK.
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