LROC Wide Angle Camera (WAC) mosaic of the lunar South Pole region, width ~600 km (372 miles).
The lunar South Pole is one of the most compelling places in the entire Solar System. This region of the Moon is important for both lunar scientists and engineers planning future human exploration. The towering massifs of the South Pole-Aitken Basin can be accessed, and these massifs contain impact melt that will allow scientists to unambiguously determine the age of this huge basin. Furthermore, permanently shadowed craters may harbor reservoirs of ices and other volatile compounds that could serve as a tremendously valuable resource for future explorers. Additionally, these volatile deposits could contain a priceless record of water composition dating back to the beginning of our Solar System, an incomparable dataset for astrobiology investigations. Finally, a few mountain peaks near the pole (just west and east of the rim Shackleton crater) are illuminated for extended periods of time, providing the near-constant solar power that would be required for the economical operation of a permanent lunar outpost.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center built and manages the mission for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera was designed to acquire data for landing site certification and to conduct polar illumination studies and global mapping. Operated by Arizona State University, LROC consists of a pair of narrow-angle cameras (NAC) and a single wide-angle camera (WAC). The mission is expected to return over 70 terabytes of image data.