NASA selects geology prof to help plan upcoming moon mission
Northwestern geology Prof. Mark Robinson has been selected by NASA to join a team of scientists who will provide support and instruments for an upcoming mission to the moon. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission is scheduled to launch in fall 2008 as part of NASA's Robotic Lunar Exploration Program.Robinson, one of the project's leaders, designed a camera that will be carried aboard the Orbiter.
"We are building an instrument called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, which is actually three cameras in one package," Robinson said. "There are two narrow angle cameras which take very high-resolution, black-and-white pictures, and a medium-resolution camera, which takes color wide-angle pictures at multiple wavelengths." The mission's main objective is to select sights for humans to land on the moon between 2015 and 2020. The narrow-angle cameras will capture detailed images of the lunar surface, uncovering any hazards for a future landing. The wide-angle camera will produce images of the moon's poles to discover and analyze potential lunar resources.
"The chief goal of the wide-angle component is to get a wide-angle view of the polar regions to map lighting conditions," Robinson said. "The reason why we are interested in that is because there is potential water and ice trapped at the poles."The wide-angle camera also will engage in what Robinson calls "compositional mapping." This process uses variable, multi-spectral wavelengths to identify specific minerals. In particular, scientists will search for a lunar compound called ilmenite.Robinson said this compound is of great interest to scientists because it is composed of titanium and oxygen, both of which can be very useful when broken down. Robinson said ilmenite has the potential to be mined in the future.
"There is an efficient process using solar power where you can get titanium and oxygen," Robinson said.Titanium is a lightweight metal, and oxygen can be used for rocket fuel, Robinson said.Robinson said eventually 10 people from NU will work on the project. His proposal for the camera was chosen from among five or six submitted to NASA in September. Malin Space Science Systems will build the camera in San Diego and Robinson will continue working from NU.
"I am confident LRO will discover a 'new moon' for us, and in doing so shape our human exploration agenda for our nearest planetary neighbor for decades to come," said NASA's chief scientist, Jim Garvin, in a press release from the agency.