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.
NASA / LRO

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.
NASA / LRO

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.
NASA / LRO

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.
NASA / LRO

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.
NASA / LRO

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.
NASA / LRO

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. My book "Night Sky with the Naked Eye" was just published and is now available on Amazon and BN. It covers all the great things you can see at night with just your eyeballs. No equipment needed!

15 thoughts on “How to See All Six Apollo Moon Landing Sites

  1. skenn_ie

    I sometimes wonder: If humans were to return to the moon, what are the chances of the Rover being repairable (new batteries, electronics etc. Are the wheels metal, or would they have degraded into dust along with other plastics ? Would the control electronics have been killed by radiation too ?

    1. Bob KingBob King Post author

      Hi Skenn,

      Fascinating to ponder. The wheel were made of aluminum, zinc-coated woven steel and titanium. I should think they would last a long, long time. Aluminum was also used in the chassis, so it would last too but everything would eventually become pitted over thousands of years by micrometeorites and impact debris. Here’s an article about the rover’s components: http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/lunar/apollo_lrv.html

  2. rwallace612

    I have a 120mm/600mm f6 refractor and a 6″ F6 916mm newtonian telescope. Would either of these be powerful enough to spot the landing sites with any kind of detail?

    1. Bob KingBob King Post author

      rwallace,

      With those scopes, you’ll be able to positively identify the location of each site relative to nearby ridges, craters and hills, so you’ll be able to say “that’s where they landed,” but you won’t see any Apollo details like landers, rover tracks, etc. Even large telescopes won’t show those.

      1. rwallace612

        Thanks Bob!
        I guess I was being too optimistic as to what detail I could make :).
        It shall be fun to identify the sites none the less.

        Thanks for your reply!

  3. Systemsplanet

    I can’t accept that we can’t scientifically verify the artifacts exist other than from blurry nasa photos.
    There has to be independent third party verification or the objects don’t exist.

    Do any of the sites have terrains where the artifacts will cast shadows that are long enough to be resolved by ground telescopes?

    What about bouncing lasers / radio waves / microwaves/ etc
    off the artifacts and detecting the reflecting interferrence /scatter patterns?

    Can multiple telescopes be combined to increase the resolution?

    Can a large comet/meteor that passes between the Earth and moon be used as a gravitational lense?

    Can multiple images be stacked to increase resolution?

    Is it possible for a civilian to build a small rocket that launches from a helium Ballon, with enough speed to send a very tiny camera / solar cell / transmitter that could capture high resolution images and radio them back?

    Could we croud source 1000 telescopes to image together and combine the images?

    Can we image from a high altitude baloon?

    Does a longer exposure improve resolution?

    Could we do a long exposure from a glider to reduce atmosphere and improve resolution?

    Could we build a giant concave mirror out of smaller mirrors that projects an image to a smaller imager to improve resolution?

    Can we put N cameras on a spinning wheel to gather more photons, then create image stabilization software to remove the spin ?

    Could we shoot laser light into the air to detect the atmosphere distortion and use that to remove the distortion?

    Can we use images of the moon from before the Apollo missions to subtract the land reflection from newer images to highlight reflections from the artifacts?

    Can we detect micro meteor collisions with the artifacts?

    There has to be a way.

    1. Bob KingBob King Post author

      Systemplanet,

      You’ve obviously given a lot of thought to this matter. Here are several things to take in:

      1. There is no question we landed on the moon multiple times. It’s in the history books and really, truly happened despite the conspiracy theorists. For that reason alone, there’s no actual need to verify that the hardware, etc. is still up there.

      2. We are still bouncing lasers from the ground off the retroreflectors the astronauts left on the surface to precisely measure the distance from Earth to the moon as well as measure the subtle movements of our planet’s tectonic plates.

      3. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s camera/telescope is the only instrument close enough to the moon (~31 miles) to clearly record the landing sites, hardware, shadows and even the thread-like tracks made by the astronauts and rovers during their explorations of the lunar surface.

      4. Since all of this is proven and photographed, there’s no reason professional astronomers would take the time (and money it would require) to keep trying to verify that we went to the moon even if we had a telescope big enough to see the hardware. I know Hubble can’t do it (all the Apollo hardware, landing stage, etc. is below its resolution limit of its optics.), but even if the twin 10-meter Keck telescopes might be able to (I can’t verify this at this moment), there’s simply no need to do so. Keep in mind that those instruments are being used for important, groundbreaking research by astronomers around the world.

      All that said, one of things you mentioned got my curiosity going: whether any of the objects might cast shadows long enough to be detected. The tallest thing of substantial girth was the lunar descent stage at around 10 feet height. While I can’t be 100% sure, that still seems too insignificant to cast a substantial shadow.

      1. Robert8450

        Hi Bob, I promise I’m not trying to start a war here and I very much respect you and appreciate your information here so please don’t take the following abrasive or insulting an any way…

        Your #1 argument above to support the idea that we landed on the moon does not make it factual. In fact there are dozens of “questions” that shoot holes in the alleged moon landings so it is in fact very questionable the more you look into it.. just because you read something in a text book or watch something on television doesn’t make it true. In fact I can show you dozens if not hundreds of things our government has lied to us about and while it is quite painful for Americans to consider the reality of the moon landings being a hoax.

        As I said, I’m not trying to be unkind or start an argument here, I just would implore of you that you, being an honest and observant astronomer, do your diligence and apply a little scientific method (which isn’t unreasonable) as the above person (systemsplanet) stated above.

        And as I said below to someone else… We all know There are a lot of conspiracies out there on every subject you can name with good and bad information that support both sides, but if you really look into this one, you’ll find the answer as painful as it may be. For starters, try looking up a BBC documentary on YouTube called, “a funny thing happened on the way to the moon”. I very much look forward to your response to an honest viewing of that video.

        Please don’t delete these responses because you disagree with them but instead verify (or logically disprove) what is said in the documentary.. I am not making this up and it is not my information – I am just the messenger here and it was quite painful for me as well to come to the realization that we’ve been lied to and the moon landings are in fact a hoax. If you can prove otherwise, I would certainly like to see your supporting evidence., thank you for your honest consideration.

    2. Canis Major

      Think of it this way: The Soviets were trying to get to the moon, too, and they sent unmanned probes that orbited the moon and took photos after Apollo 11 landed. If we didn’t land on the moon, then the Soviets let us get away with one of the biggest propaganda wins of the Cold War when they easily could have embarrassed us mightily. What’s more, they could have kept at their program and scored the additional coup of the first “real” moon landing. They didn’t accuse us of faking anything, and they abandoned their moon program. That should tell you that our landing was legitimate. Our Cold War adversary would have never let us score such a propaganda win by fraud.

      1. Robert8450

        Your theory sounds good but unfortunately isn’t the case. They most likely stopped their missions after they learned about the “Van Allen Radiation Belts”. Look that up. Humans can not safely pass through it without high levels of radiation exposure. And likewise, they could easily be told to keep quiet about it for fear of US Retailiation. Tensions were already high and pissing off the Man with his finger on the Nuke button is not really worth going to war is it?

        I’m not trying to start a fight here, but don’t you think logic, reason, observation and (god forbid) “the scientist method” would be better than mere speculation just simply believing what you’re told ?

        We all know There are a lot of conspiracies out there on every subject you can name with good and bad information that support both sides, but if you really look into this one, you’ll find the answer as painful as it may be. For starters, try looking up a BBC documentary on YouTube called, “a funny thing happened on the way to the moon”. I very much look forward to your response to an honest viewing of that video but try to keep the insults and name calling to a minimum please – instead apply some logic and reason.

    3. Robert8450

      I agree you 100% and I too very much want to see the “scientific method” being applied as opposed to the “well hey, we were told it happened and so it did – don’t question authority” – Where is logic, reason, and observation when we need it ? When you get a few minutes go to YouTube.com and search a BBC documentary called, “a funny thing happened on the way to the moon”. I very much look forward to your response and input that video.

      1. Bob KingBob King Post author

        Robert,
        Thank you for your e-mail – I appreciate your thoughtfulness. The Van Allen Belt issue is simply an early viewpoint that was later proven false by the Apollo missions. I’ve tried repeatedly over the years to present logical, scientific and physical evidence (not to mention the photos by LRO of the landing sites and machinery) as well as my own personal experience of the missions to conspiracy theory believers – to no avail. I wish you well in your quest and hope one day you’ll appreciate what an incredible achievement Apollo was for humankind.

          1. Bob KingBob King Post author

            Sertan,
            Of course, yes, there are Van Allen belts, but all the Apollo space missions and the astronauts made it through the belts safely. Although they did receive additional radiation exposure, it was not life-threatening.

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