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Photos of Apollo Moon Landing Sites From Space!


ALL Apollo Landing Sites

Was the moon landing a hoax? If not, why don't we have photos of Apollo moon landings from space? In fact, we do! Below are photos of all the Apollo spacecraft on the moon, plus astronaut footprints, instruments, lunar rovers, and flags at several different Apollo mission landing sites.

India's space program photographed tracks of Apollo 15's astronauts in September '09. Japan's Selene/Kaguya lunar probe imaged the Apollo 15 and 17 sites in 2008 with a stereoscopic 3D camera, including the "halo" of brighter material kicked up by Apollo 15's exhaust plume. China's Chang'e 2 lunar orbiter has imaged Apollo equipment on the surface, according to chief scientist Yan Jun. Also, it turns out that the Clementine spacecraft snapped a distant picture of the Apollo 15 landing site as far back as 1994. But those photos can't match the resolution of the new Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's camera!

This page includes detailed photos of the landing sites of Apollo 11-12, Apollo 14-17, and the crash site of Apollo 13's upper stage booster.

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images are from NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University.

Apollo 11 Landing Site Overview

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped the Apollo 11 landing site on its early approach in July 2009, but we were disappointed -- it was as far away as a typical Earth satellite photo (see below) so there wasn't any detail. Later passes in November 2009 and 2011 brought the LRO nearer.

P.S. See the bottom of this page where I've got links to several recordings of the Apollo 11 mission picked up by amateur and foreign radio operators.

The November 2009 photo is lit directly from above — with the sun directly behind the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter — so the metal platform left behind by the lunar lander module when it blasted back into orbit is reflecting sun-glare right back at the camera lens, making it look white.

Video Retrospective: Apollo 11's Final Scary Minutes

Compare Above Photos With Satellite Photography of Earth:

Earth Observatory satellite photo of New York City. (Terra orbits at about 443 miles up.)

Earth Observatory satellite photo of New York City. (Terra orbits at about 443 miles up.)

Why Can't We See Moon Landers From Earth Using Telescopes?

Detailed Google Maps photos are taken by low-flying aircraft flying at 800-1500 feet, not satellites. Above is an actual satellite photo of the tip of Manhattan in New York City. Hey, where's the cars? Prove to me they exist!

Now consider: The moon is 238,857 miles away. Satellite photos of Earth are taken by satellites (duh), only a few hundred miles up. So we couldn't take a picture of the Moon as detailed as that New York City image until we put an actual satellite (the LRO!) in orbit above the Moon.

I've marked the Brooklyn Bridge for scale. It's 26m wide. Lunar landing modules are 9 meters across (and that includes the legs.) Notice the white glare off concrete roofs. The moon lander's flat metal platform reflects even more glare at noon.

Can Telescopes See Apollo Landing Sites?

Have you got a pair of binoculars? Try reading a book with them. The printing isn't even visible, because the focal point is all wrong for anything up close.

Space telescopes have the same problem. Tele + scope means "far + sight," and they are really far-sighted. Powerful telescopes like the Hubble are designed to see things on the other side of the solar system — or even the universe! — not for close-up studies of the Moon's surface.

Below is what the Hubble Space Telescope sees when looking straight at the Apollo 17 lunar landing site. The Hubble is one of the most powerful telescopes ever made, floating above the interference of the Earth's atmosphere, but it can't resolve objects 9m across. For that, it would need a giant pair of "reading glasses!"

See Can telescopes see lunar landers or lunar rovers? and Abandoned Spaceships and Moon Buggies for great articles answering this question in more detail, with photos.

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Apollo 17 Landing Site Photographed By Hubble Space Telescope

Hubble Space Telescope Photo of Moon Landing Site

Hubble Space Telescope Photo of Moon Landing Site

Multiple LRO Images Show How Sun Angle Changes View of Site

Apollo 13 Third Stage Booster on Moon

You probably know why there are no Apollo 13 moon landing photos.

However, Apollo 13 did leave its calling card: the first two stages of its booster rocket fell to Earth and burned up, but the third stage used to nudge it into lunar orbit crashed on the Moon. Its impact was recorded by a seismometer left by Apollo 12.

Seismometers left by the various missions have helped to coordinate the crash sites of all the spent stages within a few hundred meters, but this is the first to be photographed.

Crash site of Apollo 13 third stage:

Apollo 13 Booster Crash Site

30-meter-wide impact crater left by Saturn IVB upper stage of the rocket that should have taken Apollo 13 to the moon. (Well, it did reach the moon, it just didn't land.)

30-meter-wide impact crater left by Saturn IVB upper stage of the rocket that should have taken Apollo 13 to the moon. (Well, it did reach the moon, it just didn't land.)

What's with the bright white glare in some images?

Here's a video of one of the lunar modules returning to space, leaving behind a base and its legs. Notice the bright glare on the flat metal. (No, they didn't leave someone behind -- this camera was the one on Apollo 17's moon rover, controlled from Houston.)

Apollo 14 Landing Site of Antares Lunar Lander

Next up, Apollo 14. The astronauts were being extra-cautious on this mission after Apollo 13, which meant they got lost hiking in hilly terrain and had to turn back just before finding a crater they were hoping to see!

The high-res version of the August 2009 LRO flyby just barely shows their tracks, but you'll have to see the large size on NASA's website because the footprints are too faint to show when I post the smaller version here.

But there are better LRO images of the site from closer, later passes:

Apollo 15 Moon Lander (Descent Module) and Site

Ever since the LRRRs from Apollo 11 and Apollo 15 were placed in position, astronomers back on Earth have been able to aim high-powered lasers at these mirrors and measure the Moon's distance with incredible precision from the light that bounces back.

40 years of measurements have shown not only the slight tidal rise and fall of the Moon's surface, but the fact that it's slowly spiralling away at a rate of 3.8 centimeters a year.

If you check that link, it's actually a fairly impressive feat of engineering. Since the Moon is hundreds of thousands of miles away, the light photons have to go straight there, straight back without even a tiny bit of deflection at an angle, or they'll miss the detector the astronomers are using.

In addition to the LRRR left by Apollo 15 astronauts, as usual, they did some rock collecting and exploration. See this page near the bottom matching up landscape photos taken by the astronauts with LRO overhead views.

Apollo 15 was also the first moon lander to include a Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), popularly known as a moon buggy.

Photos of Apollo 16 Moon Landing Site

Again, there's a moon buggy (LRV) to make these photos more interesting. The site looks drastically different when sun is low (July 2009) or at high noon (July 2010)!

Apollo 16 is daringly perched next to a crater — from our perspective, on the right side.