Apollo Landers Seen on the Moon

The Apollo 11 descent stage casting a long shadow
The Apollo 11 descent stage, left behind in 1969, is seen for the first time since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin said goodbye. It's casting a long shadow in the low sun.
NASA / LRO
"Hey, can you see the flag on the Moon with that thing?"

For the last 40 years, every amateur astronomer with a big telescope has heard this countless times. My standard response, ever since I was a teenager, has always been:

"No, telescopes on the ground mostly can't see anything smaller than a mile across on the Moon. The flag is just a couple feet across. The Apollo landing stages are still there, but they're only a few yards across."

Fact is, not even the Hubble telescope or lunar orbiters have had optics good enough to see anything that humans left on the Moon.

Until now. On June 18th NASA launched its new Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), designed in part to scout future landing sites. It worked its way down into low lunar orbit and has started taking pictures with both its wide-angle and narrow-angle cameras. The latter are designed to achieve a pixel resolution of 1 meter (3 feet) on the ground.

Naturally enough, some early targets for the Narrow Angle Cameras have been the various Apollo landing sites. In time for next Monday's 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, NASA released pictures today. Browse and enjoy.

18 thoughts on “Apollo Landers Seen on the Moon

  1. Eric

    In the middle of the article it states:

    Fact is, not even the Hubble telescope or lunar orbiters have had optics good enough to see anything that humans left on the Moon.

    I thought the Hubble never took photos of the Moon for some reason.

  2. Eric

    In the middle of the article it states:

    Fact is, not even the Hubble telescope or lunar orbiters have had optics good enough to see anything that humans left on the Moon.

    I thought the Hubble never took photos of the Moon for some reason.

  3. Bob-PatrickBob

    Alan…The photos of the landing stages and footprints left behind give me a bittersweet taste. First, the bitter litter. As a naturalist I ask, How come we cannot pack out what we pack in? Now, the sweet. Observing human accomplishment is good for the science side of me.

    All in all, good reporting.

  4. Chuck

    Since all the moon landings were a hoax, I guess this must be faked too!

    But seriously… I remember watching the moon landings on TV and honestly believing by now we’d have gone further. At least to Mars.

  5. David Abbou

    Incredible photos near the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11. LRO already is a success and will continue to dazzle us with sharp photos of our nearest celestial neighbor.

  6. Larry Robinson

    I read somewhere that the Hubble Telescope can’t focus on an object as near as the moon.

    As for landing on Mars, the problem is getting astronauts there safely, landing them, taking off again and returning. It is a multi-year mission. The problems are huge.

    – We are just now finding out how to keep astronauts healthy for long-term missions with the space station. But nobody has yet been up long enough for a trip to Mars and back.

    – How do you provide food and oxygen for a multi-year mission?

  7. Larry Robinson

    Mess???

    Call it a monument. It is a historic site.

    Be thankful the videos are the only things that were lost (and those might be due to the fact that no surviving players existed). Many other historic events have no surviving artifacts.

    The first airplane is gone. The Smithsonian has one from several months later. The first one was wrecked, and the parts were used in other planes.

    Nobody has the first steam engine, internal combustion engine, jet engine, locomotive, automobile, battery, electric motor, electric generator, vacuum tube, or transistor. Saving historical events was not important to the owners of these items.

  8. Dana Kennedy

    Have to disagree with Larry Robinson about the first jet engine. It’s in a glass case outside the GE Lynn Mass. engine factory.

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