NASA to use lasers to map the Moon.
“If you ask ‘where is a crater on the far side of the Moon?’, chances are there’s probably many kilometers of uncertainty in its true positioning,” says David Smith, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Even on the near side of the Moon, Smith adds, errors in the true global position of features may be as large as a kilometer.
To improve this situation, NASA plans to send a high-precision laser altimeter to orbit the Moon and create a 3-dimensional map of its surface. When completed, the map will be so accurate that we’ll know the contours of the Moon better than we do some remote regions on Earth. Astronauts will be able to use it like a USGS hiking map.
The laser is named “LOLA,” short for Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter. It’s scheduled to launch in 2008 onboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. LOLA works by bouncing pulses of laser light off the lunar surface as it orbits the Moon. By measuring the time it takes for light to travel to the surface and back, LOLA can calculate the roundtrip distance. LOLA is capable of timing pulses with a precision of 0.6 nanoseconds, corresponding to a distance error of no more than 10 cm.
I met her 'round a moon down in old Sol’s place
where you drink laser beams and they taste just like Cherry Cola
She walked up to me and she asked me to map
I asked her her name and in a digital voice she said, “LOLA”
L-O-L-A Lola, lo lo lo Lola