“We can continue to try and clean up the gutters all over the world and spend all of our resources looking at just the dirty spots and trying to make them clean. Or we can lift our eyes up and look into the skies and move forward in an evolutionary way.” –Buzz Aldrin
Sometimes, you go away for one weekend and you miss out on some awfully big news. So while I was competing in the USA Beard & Mustache championships (and I — along with everyone else — was put to shame by Willi Chevalier), some amazing news came back from our closest astronomical neighbor.
Back when the space race was in its heyday in the late 1960s, it became clear that the United States was going to beat the Soviet Union to landing a man on the Moon. (That’s Neil photographing Buzz, above.) But that didn’t mean the Soviet Union wasn’t going to do something spectacular in their own right.
Say hello to Lunokhod 1, which became the first remote-controlled robot to land on another rock in our Solar System. Lunokhod 1 landed on the Moon, brought there by the lander Luna 17, and immediately went to work.
Lunokhod 1, initially slated for a mission of just under 90 days, lasted 11 months, traveled over 10 kilometers and took over 20,000 images and over 200 panoramas. It also became the first vehicle to photograph its own footprints, which fascinates me for some reason.
And on October 4, 1971, Lunokhod 1 was declared dead after repeated attempts to contact it were unsuccessful.
C’est la vie.
Fast forward now to 2010, where NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (above) has been orbiting the Moon, taking extraordinarily high-resolution photos.
And then it took this one, where you’ll notice there’s a tiny little white blob.
What is that white blob? Let’s blow it up as much as we can.
Surprise surprise, they found Lunokhod 1! And despite having collected 39 years worth of lunar dust, they decided to perform the ultimate test on Lunokhod 1.
What’s the ultimate test?
Shoot a laser at it!
No, really, shoot a laser at it. Here’s why. On all of these rovers and stations, they placed one of the simplest types of reflectors: a corner mirror. What’s so special about these? Well, all you need to do is hit it, at practically any place and at any angle, and it will reflect whatever light you shone on it back, perfectly parallel to the original beam!
They installed these with the Apollo landers (see below), but the Apollo landers were nowhere near where Lunokhod 1 wound up!
So they shone this laser at Lunokhod 1, and the reflected signal was so strong they can see it during daytime on the Moon!
So right now, at this moment in time, we can measure the position of the Moon to within millimeters, the most accurately we’ve ever been able to measure it! And why? Thanks to rediscovering a 40 year old piece of Soviet junk.