Despite what you've read, NASA doesn't really have a moon program. Not yet. But it will as of next Thursday. That's the day the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is scheduled to launch on a year-long (at least) mission to send back our best pictures of the moon since astronauts stopped visiting there a generation ago.
In many ways, the images will be better. This time, we'll get global coverage in multiple wavelengths, along with far more data on the moon's physical and chemical properties than we've ever had. LRO's most detailed pictures will show objects on the surface that are human in scale, including the Apollo landers left behind in the 1970s.
It's been five years since NASA announced its return to the moon. Since then, we've gotten mostly budget wrangling, schedule slips, and arguments about which rocket is best. Okay, that's a little harsh. There has also been real progress on the Orion space capsule and a hundred other systems, including a test flight of Ares rocket hardware scheduled for this summer. But personally, I'm ready for some actual lunar exploration to remind us what this is all about.
Go, LRO! Launch is set for 5:12 p.m Eastern time on June 18, from Cape Canaveral. ( Note: the launch was originally scheduled for June 17).