Many Expeditions Have Gone to the Moon. Here's Where They Landed and Why We've Never Been to the Far Side.
Image credit: National Space Science Data Center
Many amateur astronomers have become students of the Moon. They can not only tell you that many of the dark grey areas that face the Earth are called "Seas" or the Latin "Maria," but their locations and names. Of course they really aren't seas but large plains of dark basalt that spread across the surface during a period of volcanism interrupted by a few significant craters including Tycho and Copernicus.
Where Did People Land On The Moon?
Some of the seas may sound familiar to you including the Sea of Tranquility. This may largely be due to the words uttered by Neil Armstrong when Apollo 11 first touched down: "Houston, Tranquility base here. The Eagle has landed." And that's where our study of the Moon takes on added interest. As we view it through our scopes, where exactly did they land and who sent all of those probes, rovers and manned missions?
To date, the U.S. is the only country to land humans on the Moon. 12 in all, over the course of 41 months. But before the first manned lunar landing and ever since, various countries continue to send probes to study the Moon. Russia was the first to reach the Moon with their Luna 2 in September of 1959, followed by the U.S. with Ranger 4 in 1962 and most recently China with their Chang'e 3 rover. India, Japan and the European Space Agency have also sent probes but all were in the category of controlled-crashes or remained in lunar orbit.
What About The Far Side?
Far side of the moon. Image credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University.
What's apparent when you look at the landing sites on the Moon is that there is no indication of a landing on the far side of the Moon. Not a single probe, rover or manned landing. It is possible that some probes meant to land on the Moon crashed on the far side, but the purpose of any approach including a controlled crash is to gather data. And that's the point. Communication with Earth is impossible from the far side of the Moon. A losing situation for a scientific probe and a dangerous proposition for a manned landing.
That's not to imply that the far side is a mystery. Many probes including the currently orbiting Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) continue to map ever part of the Moon in great detail. What they have shown us is that the far side is far different than the near side. No seas are apparent and the surface is heavily cratered. The orbiter records the photos and transmits when it reaches the near side and Earth contact again. In fact, the LRO has managed to take numerous high-resolution photos of past lunar landing sites with remarkable clarity. In many of the photos the equipment is apparent including the descent stages of the LEM's that carried American astronauts to the Moon across 6 missions, and the trails of the astronauts (see image below).
Image credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University.
It's impossible for even the most powerful telescopes to see this level of detail, and maybe that's why many countries continue to make the trip. As for those of us who are earthbound, we can continue to study the moon and not only wonder about its mysteries, but ponder those who have made the journey.
Have a look at this to help you find the Apollo 15 landing site
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