Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Up and Away
A trusty Atlas V rocket threw the NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Spacecraft toward the moon today. The LRO is the one I find most interesting. It will go into orbit around the two poles, turning a suite of six instruments on the moon for thorough mapping. It's looking for potential landing sites for astronauts, but will produce a super detailed map of the lunar surface using laser altimetery and radically high resolution, 3D digital photography. LRO's high-resolution mapping is even good enough to show some of the larger pieces of equipment previously left on the moon by other missions. It's estimated that a full 70–100 TB of image data will be returned.
An excellent 7 min. video overview of its missions can be found on YouTube.
"Real World: NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Mission" YouTube Feb. 24, 2009. (Accessed June 19, 2009).