How to See All Six Apollo Moon Landing Sites

Walk in the astronauts' footsteps as you explore the places they visited in the heyday of Apollo program. Use these helpful maps to start you on your way.

Far away home

Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt with the American flag. Earth glows blue 240,000 miles in the distance.
Credit: NASA

We all love dark moonless skies, but let's face it, the Moon's out two weeks a month. How can you ignore it? You've doubtless observed craters and mountain ranges and probed for volcanic features like rills and domes. But here and there among the nooks and crannies, you'll find six of the most remarkable locales on the Moon — the Apollo landing sites. They're the only places where humanity has achieved one of its oldest dreams and "touched the stars".

As you're well aware, no telescope on Earth can see the leftover descent stages of the Apollo Lunar Modules or anything else Apollo-related. Not even the Hubble Space Telescope can discern evidence of the Apollo landings. The laws of optics define its limits.

Hubble's 94.5-inch mirror has a resolution of 0.024″ in ultraviolet light, which translates to 141 feet (43 meters) at the Moon's distance. In visible light, it's 0.05″, or closer to 300 feet. Given that the largest piece of equipment left on the Moon after each mission was the 17.9-foot-high by 14-foot-wide Lunar Module, you can see the problem.

Did I say problem? No problem for NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which can dip as low as 31 miles (50 km) from the lunar surface, close enough to image each landing site in remarkable detail.

Apollo locator and scenes

Six Apollo missions successfully landed on and departed from the Moon between July 1969 and December 1972. Top, clockwise: James Irwin salutes the flag at Hadley Rill; Harrison Schmitt collects rock samples in the Taurus-Littrow Valley; Buzz Aldrin's footprint in the lunar regolith; Charlie Duke placed a photo of his family on the Moon and took a picture of it; Edgar Mitchell photographs the desolate landscape of the Fra Mauro highlands; and Pete Conrad jiggles the Surveyor 3 probe to see how firmly it's situated.
NASA, collage by Bob King

LRO's orbital imagery and photos taken in situ by the Apollo astronauts will serve to illuminate our ramblings from one Apollo site to the next. All the landing sites lie on the near side of the Moon and were chosen to explore different geologic terrains. Astronauts bagged 842 pounds (382 kg) of Moon rocks, which represented everything from mare basalts to ancient highland rocks to impact-shattered rocks called breccias. Apollo 12 astronauts even found the first meteorite ever discovered on another world, the Bench Crater carbonaceous chondrite.

They're all still there

Photos of each of the six Apollo landing sites photographed from low orbit by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. ALSEP stands for Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package. The astronauts' tracks as well as the rover and other items are plainly visible. Click for a large version.

With the Moon waxing this week and next, the advancing line of lunar sunrise will expose one site after another beginning with Apollo 17 in the Moon's eastern hemisphere and finishing with Apollos 12 and 14 in the western. To see each locale, a 4-inch or larger telescope magnifying 75× or higher will get the job done. But the larger the scope and higher the power, the closer you'll be able to pinpoint each landing site and better able to visualize the scene.

Below are the approximate times and current dates after New Moon when each landing locale first becomes fully illuminated by the Sun:

* Apollos 17 and 11: Six days past New (April 24)
* Apollo 16: Seven days, or First Quarter (April 25)
* Apollo 15: Eight days (April 26)
* Apollos 12 and 14: Ten days (April 28)

Five guideposts to six landing sites

All the landing sites can be found using these five prominent lunar craters. North is up in this view.
Credit: NASA/LRO

The base images for all the sites are photographs taken by the LRO. I encourage you to drop by the ACT-REACT QuickMap site, which features a zoomable lunar map of LRO photos that will practically take you down to the lunar surface. Click the "paper stack" icon and uncheck Sunlit Region to see a fully-illuminated Moon, no matter the current phase. Checking the Nomenclature box will bring up the names of craters, rills and many other features. More details about each of the LRO Apollo photos can be found here.

Following are maps for pinpointing each Apollo location. South is up, and clicking on the images will link you to higher resolution versions. Time to strap on your boots and follow in the footsteps of the first people to walk on the Moon.

First Apollo

Apollo 11 landed on July 20, 1969, on the relatively smooth and safe terrain of the Sea of Tranquility. For an extra challenge, see if you can spot the three craters named for the Apollo 11 astronauts just north of the landing site. They range from 2.9 miles (Armstrong) to 1.5 miles (Collins) across.

Apollo 12 meets Surveyor 3

Pete Conrad and Alan Bean achieved a pinpoint landing on Nov. 19, 1969, in the Ocean of Storms south of the grand rayed crater Copernicus, landing within walking distance of the Surveyor 3 probe.

Can you spot the golf balls?

Apollo 14 touched down on Feb. 5, 1971, in the Fra Mauro formation. Somewhere in the scene are two golf balls hit by Alan Shepard with a makeshift club he brought from Earth.

A Stroll along the rill

James Irwin and David Scott spent three days alongside Hadley Rille in the rugged Apennine Mountains after landing Apollo 15 on July 30, 1971. This was the first mission to use the Lunar Rover, greatly expanding the amount of ground the astronauts could cover.

In search of ancient rocks

Apollo 16 touched down in the lunar highlands on April 21, 1972, in the Cayley Formation, where astronauts John Young and Charles Duke hoped to find older Moon rocks than those previously found near the younger maria.

Final mission

Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan landed the final Apollo mission in the Taurus-Littrow Valley on Dec. 11, 1972. The astronauts once again searched for ancient highland material. In the process, they broke a rear fender on the lunar rover and re-attached it using maps and duct tape.
Credit: NASA/LRO

Speaking of landings . . . space exploration has proven difficult even with robotic explorers, and nowhere is this more apparent than on Mars, where historically, more landings have failed than succeeded. Download our free ebook, Mars Landings: Past & Present, and you'll also receive our weekly e-newsletter with the latest news from the world of astronomy.

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Bob King

About Bob King

Amateur astronomer since childhood and long-time member of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO), Bob King also teaches community education astronomy and writes the blog Astro Bob. The universe invites us on an adventure every single night. All we need do is look up. Check out my forthcoming book "Night Sky with the Naked Eye" (on Amazon and BN) about all the great things you can see at night without any special equipment.