On July 20, 1969, humanity left its first footprints on another world. Forty years later the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera captured this image (top) of the descent stage of the Eagle, Apollo 11’s Lunar Module (indicated by the yellow arrow). The descent stage is the largest artifact left behind by astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong after their 22-hour stay on the Moon. During their walk on the lunar surface one of the astronauts (probably Buzz Aldrin) snapped this photo (bottom) of the Lunar Module with Earth almost directly above.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter launched on June 18, 2009, and began sending back images of the Moon on June 23. Launched to map out the surface of the Moon, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was still moving towards its near-surface orbit when it acquired this image of the Apollo 11 landing site between July 11 and July 15. When the orbiter reaches its final orbit, it will image the Moon’s surface at a resolution of 0.5 meters, providing an image that is about two times more detailed than the image shown here.
The Apollo astronauts came back to Earth with more than moon dust: their journey provided a perspective on Earth that humanity had never experienced. For the first time, we saw our planet as a whole, a small blue and white globe against the black vastness of space. In the 40 years that have passed since NASA landed on the Moon, the agency has continued to look back at Earth, using the view from space to learn how life, land, atmosphere, ocean, ice, and energy interact to create the Earth system that sustains us.
LROC image courtesy NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University. Astronaut photograph AS11-40-5924 courtesy NASA History Division. Caption by Rob Simmon and Holli Riebeek.