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Engineering Professor Begins Moon Mission Work

Yesterday’s start of NASA’s journey to enable a human return to the moon means new exploration for a College of Engineering professor.

Rongxing (Ron) Li, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and geodetic science, is one of 24 scientists selected by NASA to participate in research related to a new moon mission, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. At 5:32 p.m. yesterday (6/18), the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard an Atlas V rocket.

Li and other scientists will initiate new investigations and assist with planned measurements to be conducted by the orbiter to identify future robotic and human landing sites. The team also will study lunar resources and how the moon’s environment will affect humans. Li’s specific role is to integrate a camera and laser altimeter data for precise topographic mapping of the moon in anticipation of assessing the potential landing sites.

The orbiter and satellite spacecraft were tucked inside the payload fairing at the top of the Atlas V rocket during yesterday’s launch to protect them from atmospheric heating as the rocket climbed through the atmosphere toward space. The fairing separated as planned, NASA reported, and the orbiter has begun its four-day journey to begin its orbit around the moon.

The orbiter is scheduled for a one-year exploration mission at a polar orbit of about 31 miles, or 50 kilometers, the closest any spacecraft has orbited the moon. For more details, visit NASA’s Web site for the mission.

Li and his multi-institutional interdisciplinary team also are working on a project to help astronauts overcome disorientation that they can experience in lunar surface operations due to microgravity and other factors. Working under a $1.2 million grant from the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, a NASA-supported organization, Li and his team are working on a Lunar Astronaut Spatial Orientation and Information System that will remove or alleviate that disorientation by using imaging, mapping and sensor technology as well as psychological and cognitive research. The information can be delivered to astronauts through a liquid-crystal display (LCD) touch screen, while related computer servers would be on the lunar lander, outposts and/or an Earth-based control center.

Read more about Li’s work on lunar and Mars missions online.

Editors: Rongxing (Ron) Li is available on Monday for interviews about his projects. He can be reached at (614) 292-6946 or Photos, including high-res images available for download, of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter are available via NASA.