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Lunar Orbiter Sends Its First Photograph

moon

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter marked a milestone this week when a camera aboard the unmanned spacecraft captured its first photo of the Earth's closest neighbor.

The black-and-white image of the moon shows a highly contrasted, shadowy surface pockmarked with craters. The photo was taken Tuesday in an area south of the famous Apollo landings.

At Arizona State University, where a team of scientists is leading remote camera operations, the mood was upbeat Thursday morning as the team released the picture via the Web.

Undergraduate and graduate students worked at computers in the mission's Science Operations Center while ASU Professor Mark Robinson, the lead scientist, rushed back and forth ironing out last-minute details.

"There have been no unpleasant surprises," he said of the three cameras.

The orbiter launched June 18 and is NASA's first spacecraft to return to the moon's orbit in a decade. The $504 million orbiter is expected to help lay the groundwork for the eventual return of astronauts to the moon by finding safe landing sites. The minivan-size craft will spend at least a year circling and taking photographs.

Seven scientific instruments are designed to create detailed maps of the moon's surface as well as measure temperature and radiation. Scientists also hope to photograph the hardware left over by the Apollo missions of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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