Clementine: Lost and Gone Forever, But Never Forgotten!

The far side of the Moon imaged by Clemetine's Star Tracker camera in 1994.
The far side of the Moon imaged by Clementine’s Star Tracker camera on April 1, 1994.

One of my all-time favorite space images is this little gem from the Clementine mission to the Moon, launched January 25, 1994. It features a view from beyond the far side of the Moon, illuminated by reflected light off the Earth off frame to the left. The Moon is blocking the disc of the Sun with the glow of the solar corona and an overexposed Venus shining brightly in front of a background of stars. It may have been taken on April 1 but this picture is no joke—it’s absolutely beautiful!

The image above was taken by one of the two Star Tracker navigation cameras aboard the Clementine spacecraft. Clementine also had a suite of much more sophisticated cameras aboard to map the surface of the Moon in a wide range of wavelengths; for example, the image below shows a map of the lunar farside made of a mosaic of tens of thousands of Clementine UV/VIS images:

Clementine UVIS map of the lunar farside (USGS)
Clementine UVIS map of the lunar farside (USGS)

Clementine also captured this amazing image of an “Earthrise” over the Moon’s north pole on March 13, 1994 with its UV/VIS camera:

Earth Clementine
Earth above the north pole of the Moon from Clementine in 1994. Africa is facing the Moon. The crater in the foreground is about 68 miles across. (USGS)

Clementine was a joint NASA and Ballistic Missile Defense Organization mission to map the lunar surface and then the 3-mile-wide near-Earth asteroid Geographos. After leaving lunar orbit, a malfunction prevented Clementine from completing the second portion of its mission. Even though it never succeeded in reaching the asteroid the vast amounts of multi-spectral digital data from the pole-to-pole lunar mapping portion prompted President Bill Clinton to dub Clementine a major national achievement in aeronautics in space. The Clementine mission was inducted into the Space Hall of Fame in 1996.

You can learn more about Clementine here and see lots more images from the mission here and here.

FACT: The Clementine spacecraft has a fortune from a fortune cookie taped to it, which was opened by Naval Research Lab thermal engineer Bob Bauldauff during spacecraft development. It says “You will soon take a very pleasant and successful trip.” Source 

Image credits: NASA/JPL/USGS