LRO Image: Hadley Rille and the Mountains of the Moon

On 20 July 2011 (coincidentally, the 42nd anniversary of the first steps humans took on another world) the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was commanded to roll to the east, allowing the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera to obliquely observe Hadley rille and the Apollo 15 landing site. One of humanity's greatest voyages of exploration, the adventures of mission commander David Scott, lunar module pilot James Irwin, and command module pilot Al Worden transformed our understanding of the Moon and the Solar System. The shadow of the descent stage of the Lunar Module Falcon is visible, as is that of NASA's first lunar roving vehicle. Additionally, the sampling stations explored by the Apollo 15 astronauts are easy to pick out.

Apollo 15 was the first of three long-duration "J-missions"; more would have flown had the Apollo program not been brought to a premature conclusion in 1972 after the Apollo 17 mission. The J-missions featured heavily instrumented command and service modules, improved spacesuits to promote crew agility, upgraded lunar landing vehicles, and the electric Lunar Roving Vehicles (or LRVs) to expand the crew's range on the surface.

Prior to the mission, the Apollo 15 crew received extensive geoscience training, which (along with the increasingly capable hardware) resulted in an extraordinary bounty of scientific results. Apollo 15 was also the only lunar mission where all crewmembers were graduates of the University of Michigan and United States Air Force officers (the lunar module, Falcon, was named after the mascot of the United States Air Force Academy, and the Apollo 15 command module Endeavour is now on permanent display at the National Museum of the U. S. Air Force in Dayton, OH).

Astronauts Scott and Irwin spent almost three days exploring the Hadley-Apennine valley, traversed over 28 kilometers (17 miles) using the first lunar rover, and collected over 77 kilograms (170 pounds) of priceless lunar materials, including the famous "Genesis Rock", a piece of the primordial lunar crust. While Scott and Irwin explored the surface, command module pilot Worden used the extensive instrument suite aboard the command module Endeavour to successfully complete a complex series of orbital observations.

You can view digital scans of the original Apollo 15 flight films taken by Endeavour's Fairchild Mapping Camera at the Arizona State University Apollo Digital Image Archive! The geologically complex Apollo 15 site is a high priority target for future human lunar exploration, and consequently was one of the Constellation Regions of Interest that were a focus of LROC observations during the LRO Exploration Systems Mission Directorate mission (the 1st year of LRO operations). Thanks to the exploration of the Apollo 15 astronauts, we now have a well-defined set of scientific questions that can only be addressed through a future human sortie mission to the Hadley-Apennine region. In addition, recovering materials from the descent stage of Falcon would provide valuable information to present-day engineers about how materials survive on the lunar surface for long periods of time.

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