NASA Ames Scientist Selected for Return to Moon Team

LRO in orbit around the Moon. Credits: NASA

A scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center is one of 24 researchers selected to join the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission to explore and measure geological features on the moon's surface. Scheduled for launch later this year, the mission represents NASA's first step toward returning humans to the moon.

Ross Beyer, a SETI Institute employee who works at Ames, will join the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) team to help develop high-resolution imaging and topography to explore the lunar terrain for future landing sites. Beyer will help plan stereo observations and build topographic models in order to study the geologic history of the moon.

"I haven't seen the reviews of my proposal yet," Beyer said, "but I assume that I was selected because I can provide a variety of mission operations and science expertise to the team, helping out with both the exploration and science portions of the mission."

The orbiter will conduct a one-year primary mission exploring the moon, taking measurements to identify future robotic and human landing sites. In addition, it will study lunar resources and how the moon's environment will affect humans. The mission also will involve a spacecraft called the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), which will impact the lunar south pole to search for evidence of frozen polar water.

Instrument teams will define the science goals for the second year or what is deemed the extended science phase of the mission during its second year. In addition to achieving its exploration objectives, the LRO spacecraft is expected to return high quality scientific data, such as day-night temperature maps, a global mapping system, high resolution color imaging and detailed global topography that will greatly expand our understanding of the moon.

NASA received a total of 55 proposals in response to a NASA Research Announcement released in 2007. A peer review panel and NASA Planetary Science Division Research and Analysis Program scientists evaluated the proposals. Selection criteria included intrinsic merit, relevance, responsiveness to planetary science goals and objectives, as well as cost.

Scientists will be fully or partially funded, depending on their research work and scope of activities. NASA will provide funding to U.S. scientists for up to three years depending on satisfactory progress, continued relevance to the NASA objectives and availability of funds.

The LRO spacecraft is being built and tested at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and includes six instruments and a technology demonstration.

LCROSS will take several months to reach the moon. That mission will search for water astronauts could use at a future lunar outpost. The sensing spacecraft will impact the moon near its south pole early in 2009. NASA's Ames Research Center manages the mission.

The orbiter and sensing satellite will launch together aboard an Atlas V rocket in late 2008. The orbiter's trip to the moon will take approximately four days. Once in its final orbit, a circular polar orbit approximately 31 miles above the moon, spacecraft instruments will map the moon's surface at high resolution, study its radiation field and map its gravity field.

In a study published in 2007, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the science conducted on the moon is of high value.
NASA's Science Directorate will help coordinate and expand a number of in-depth research efforts in lunar science and other fields that can benefit from human and robotic missions to the moon. The lunar orbiter's science mission phase is one of many of the science directorate's activities that support moon exploration.

For a complete list of the selected scientists and their investigations, visit:

For more information about the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit: