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Tracks, equipment left by Apollo missions visible in new moon photos

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Tracks, equipment left by Apollo missions visible in new moon photos

The Apollo 17 landing site: To the far right, the Lunar Roving Vehicle; Toward the center, the descent stage of the Challenger lunar module. The lines are tracks and cables.

Tracks and equipment left on the moon by astronauts from three of the Apollo missions can be seen in new photos just released by NASA.

Though not close-ups by any stretch of the imagination, the images do offer more detail than other photos taken two years ago by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is now circling the moon.

As it flew over landing sites of the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 missions, the orbiter snapped pictures that show, among other things:

-- Trails created by footprints from all six astronauts during the three missions, as well as tracks made by Apollo 17’s Lunar Roving Vehicle (which also appears as a small dot in one photo).

-- Equipment such as the descent stages of lunar modules and cables running to two instruments from the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package left behind by Apollo 12 astronauts.

The missions took place in 1969 (Apollo 12), 1971 (Apollo 14) and 1972 (Apollo 17).

As NPR’s Nell Greenfieldboyce reported earlier for the Newscast desk, in the first images of the Apollo landing sites sent back two years ago by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter “part of the Apollo 11 lunar module could be seen as a little dot. A footpath left by the Apollo 14 astronauts looked like some faint dark lines.”

Today’s images add some details. According to NASA, adjustments made to the Reconnaissance Orbiter’s path “lowered LRO from its usual altitude of approximately 31 miles (50 kilometers) to an altitude that dipped as low as nearly 13 miles (21 kilometers) as it passed over the moon’s surface.”

Looking for a history of the Apollo missions? NASA’s Web offerings begin here.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.

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