Lunar Laser Ranging: A Continuing Legacy of the Apollo Program

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Science  22 Jul 1994:
Vol. 265, Issue 5171, pp. 482-490
DOI: 10.1126/science.265.5171.482


On 21 July 1969, during the first manned lunar mission, Apollo 11, the first retroreflector array was placed on the moon, enabling highly accurate measurements of the Earthmoon separation by means of laser ranging. Lunar laser ranging (LLR) turns the Earthmoon system into a laboratory for a broad range of investigations, including astronomy, lunar science, gravitational physics, geodesy, and geodynamics. Contributions from LLR include the three-orders-of-magnitude improvement in accuracy in the lunar ephemeris, a several-orders-of-magnitude improvement in the measurement of the variations in the moon's rotation, and the verification of the principle of equivalence for massive bodies with unprecedented accuracy. Lunar laser ranging analysis has provided measurements of the Earth's precession, the moon's tidal acceleration, and lunar rotational dissipation. These scientific results, current technological developments, and prospects for the future are discussed here.