A picture is worth a thousand words. Or, in this case, $504 million. At least, that's what it cost to build the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), NASA's robotic spacecraft that is currently orbiting the moon and carrying with it one of the most innovative pieces of photography equipment yet, ASU's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC).
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ASU is just one of the institutions contributing to the LRO, which launched back on June 18, 2009. The LRO mission, which acts as a precursor to returned manned missions to moon, has been set out to collect data on topography, temperatures, and, thanks to ASU, one of the most comprehensive mosaics of lunar imagery to date.
Last Tuesday, March 18, ASU's LROC released a staggering 680 gigapixel mosaic of the Moon's northern polar hemisphere. The mosaic covers a significant region of the Moon's surface, roughly larger than the combined area of Alaska and Texas, and was compiled from 10,581 narrow angle camera images taken by the LROC over span of four years.
In a video presented by LROC back in 2009, the imaging system's principal investigator, ASU Professor Mark Robinson, stated that an important purpose of the LROC is to collect images that detect the presence of the Ilmenite, a mineral found in the moon's surface that can be broken down into titanium, oxygen, and iron -- all of which would be useful materials for living on the moon and possibly building future structures and spacecrafts.