NASA risks crashing spacecraft for close-up pics of Apollo sites

It still blows my mind that people (like this guy) have walked on the freakin' Moon, and I'm not the only one: NASA has sent its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter dangerously low to snap some new pics of astronaut footprints on the surface of another little world.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been imaging the lunar surface from an altitude of about 30 miles up since 2009, and the spacecraft has collected hundreds of terabytes of data. Good data. Very good data. But not good enough for those crazy kids over at NASA, who decided to cut LRO's imaging altitude in half, from 30 miles above the lunar surface down to 15 miles.

Lower (closer to the surface, in other words) is way better, as far as taking pics is concerned, but at 15 miles, variations in the density of the Moon start to tug unevenly on the spacecraft, and if it stayed down that low, the orbiter would eventually crash. NASA decided to send LRO down for a little bit anyway, specifically to take some new, ultra high-res pictures of the Apollo landing sites.

The images in the gallery below show the Apollo 11, 12, and 15 landing sites at resolutions as high as 25 centimeters (about 9 inches) per pixel with captions from the LRO camera team. You can see lunar module descent stages, rovers, leftover equipment, and even footprints left by the astronautes. On the Moon, man. The Moon.

LRO, via Discover

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