Virtual space exploration

That was the title of the ABC news story that ran this evening about me.

If anything, I need to be a little more focused, and not try to be so casual. Here is the transcript posted on the ABC 7 Web site:

MOUNTAIN VIEW (KGO) -- When you think of space exploration, you probably think of rockets and going there, physically. But with the instruments on modern spacecraft, it's now possible to explore space in great detail without ever leaving earth.

He works below ground, down a long hall, in a room that might be 10 by 15 feet. A man using high definition computer screens, who you might say, gets around a lot.

"Yep. All over the solar system," said Ross Beyer.

He is a geologist by training and computer wiz by practice. He will never be a household name like Neil Armstrong, but he's going to the Moon, just the same, not physically, but virtually.

When NASA launches it Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter later this year, Dr. Beyer will be spending plenty of time, here, studying high resolution images and helping to make decisions for man's eventual return.

"How rough are these landing sites? Can we land there? Can we understand where things are?" asked Beyer.

It's the same, high definition technology that Dr. Beyer, among others, has used to map the surface of Mars with such clarity that they can identify boulders and the fault lines of quakes.

To appreciate how far that science has come in 40 years, here is an older image, taken from Viking. Maybe you remember it how, back in the 1970's people thought it looked like a face or maybe a possible message.

"Weren't you a little captivated by that?" said Wayne Freedman said Beyer. "Uh. I was two," said Beyer.

With modern cameras and computers, that face lost its mystique. Greater detail in different light shows the make-up of an optical illusion, just another mesa.

Now we will turn that capability to the Moon. As the spacecraft orbits, Beyer will study duplicate photos of locations for different angles, and then use his computers to construct three-dimensional renditions of the surface.

We will see the Moon in such detail that, for the first time, we will be able to look down at the original Apollo landing sites. Imagine Dr. Beyer as the first man to see them again.

"We'll be able to see the lunar rovers the astronauts used, for instance. We won't be able to see the flag," said Beyer.

Oh well. So there is still room for improvement. But when it comes to the dirty work jumping around the solar system, nobody does it faster than this.

"What is the difference between you and explorers of 300 years ago?" asked ABC7's Wyane Freedman.

"I don't have to worry so much about dying from scurvy," said Beyer.

That's what I get for trying to be funny. I wish I hadn't made the crack about being two during Viking and the not dying of scurvy joke, but there you go.