UH Manoa researchers are contributing scientists on mission to the moon

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Posted: Jun 30, 2009

Drs. B. Ray Hawke, Jeffrey Gillis-Davis and Paul Lucey—researchers at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa‘s Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology—are participating in a new mission to the Moon.

The three UH Mānoa faculty members are contributing scientists on a suite of three of the seven powerful instruments to be used by NASA‘s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to perform a reconnaissance of the Earth‘s nearest neighbor in preparation for human return around the year 2020. The LRO launched on June 18, and went into orbit around the Moon on June 23.

Dr. B. Ray Hawke will work with data from the LRO Camera, which will acquire high-resolution images, with resolutions down to one meter, of the lunar surface in order to help identify landing sites for future explorers and characterize the moon‘s topography and composition. Principle investigator of LROC is Mark Robinson, who graduated from UH Mānoa in1993 with a Ph.D. in planetary geosciences.

Dr. Jeffrey Gillis-Davis is part of the Miniature Radio Frequency (Mini-RF) team. Mini-RF is a radar device that focuses on looking for evidence of ice deposits on lunar poles. Dr. Gillis-Davis will use the radar data to investigate pyroclastic deposits, which are volcanic materials that were explosively erupted into space and fell back to the moon‘s surface as tiny glass beads. If the Mini-RF locates ice and/or pyroclastic deposits, it will provide future lunar explorers an opportunity to use these resources and a better understanding of the interior composition of the moon.

Dr. Paul Lucey is working with the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA). This instrument will generate a high resolution 3-D map of the Moon that will be used to measure the slopes and roughness of potential future landing sites, characterize the polar lighting environment, and use its laser to image permanently shadowed polar regions of the Moon to identify possible locations of surface ice crystals in shadowed polar craters Dr. Lucey will compare the laser reflectivity of the Moon‘s day and night sides to produce maps of the abundance of minerals that change color with temperature.

The LRO is the first mission in NASA‘s plan to return people to the moon by the year 2020, and ultimately to travel to Mars and beyond in future decades. The LRO‘s objectives are to find safe landing sites, locate potential resources, characterize the radiation environment, and demonstrate new technology. The spacecraft has taken about four days to get to the moon and then spent almost six days to get into the correct orbit. It will now take about 60 days to check out the instruments before it begins its mapping mission, which will last at least a year. More information about the LRO mission can be found at: http:://lro.gsfc.nasa.gov.