NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., opened the doors of its Laser Ranging Facility to the public Saturday (Sept. 18) in a rare night of tours to show visitors how it tracks the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter around the moon. The event was one of nearly 400 gatherings around the world making up International Observe the Moon Night aimed at spurring public interest in the moon.
This photo was taken by photographer Wade Sisler at the Goddard Space Flight Center.
At the Laser Ranging Facility, engineers fire a laser 28 times per second across nearly 250,000 miles at the minivan-sized Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a spacecraft moving at nearly 3,600 miles per hour as it orbits the moon.
By knowing the precise location of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists are able to ensure the accuracy of the moon maps the probe generates. The spacecraft recently completed its first year at the moon and, last week, finished its initial exploration mission to support future NASA flights to the moon. The probe is now switching to a pure science mission to help researchers to better understand the moon and its history.