WASHINGTON (AP) — A spacecraft circling the moon has snapped the sharpest photos ever of the tracks and trash left behind by Apollo astronauts in their visits from 1969 to 1972.
Images taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter from 13 to 15 miles up show the astronauts' paths when they walked on the moon, as well as ruts left by a moon buggy. Experts could even identify the backpacks astronauts pitched out of their lunar landers before they returned to Earth.
"What we're seeing is a trail," said Arizona State University geology professor Mark Robinson, the orbiter's chief scientist. "It's totally awesome."
However, the photos were not close enough to see individual bootprints, Robinson said.
The pictures were taken two weeks ago in August and show the landing sites for Apollo 12, 14 and 17. The closest images are of the 1972 Apollo 17 site, the last moon mission.
Apollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan wrote in an email to The Associated Press that the photo gives him a chance to revisit those days, "this time with a little nostalgia and disappointment. Nostalgia because those special days are fondly etched in my memory and disappointment because it looks like now we will not be going back within the days I have left on this planet."