The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has begun environmental testing in a thermal vacuum that simulates the harsh rigors of space, NASA announced.
Built at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., the LRO has been lifted into a four-story thermal vacuum chamber for a test that will last about five weeks. Once sealed in the chamber, the satellite will undergo a series of tests that simulate the space environment it will encounter when it orbits the moon.
During the tests, NASA engineers will operate the spacecraft to ensure it is performing as planned. The project also will conduct mission simulations to further train and develop the team that will operate the spacecraft.
The orbiter will carry seven instruments to provide scientists with detailed maps of the lunar surface and enhance understanding of lunar topography, lighting conditions, mineralogical composition and natural resources.
Information gleaned from LRO will be used to select safe landing sites, determine locations for future lunar outposts and help to mitigate radiation dangers to astronauts.
The orbiter will be shipped to Kennedy Space Center, Fla., early next year to be prepared for its April 24 launch aboard an Atlas V rocket.
Accompanying the spacecraft will be the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, a mission that will impact the lunar surface in its search for water ice.
Water is critical for ay sustained human presence beyond Earth or low Earth orbit.
With H2O, astronauts have water for drinking and for irrigating soil to grow food. Also, by splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen, they get oxygen for breathing, and hydrogen fuel for heating homes and offices on the moon, and for powering lunar vehicles.
NASA won't be going to the moon soon. The first mission would be in 2020 or so, and then a permanent lunar outpost would be established in the 2020s. No manned mission to Mars is seen before the 2030s. And all of that assumes that schedules will be kept, and that reliable, stable funding will be provided for the Orion-Ares missions.