Mapping the Moon

Mapping the Moon

For decades, research from University of Arizona scientists has shaped our understanding of our solar system and universe – beginning with the Apollo 11 mission 50 years ago.


Mapping the moon graphic

When President John F. Kennedy made his 1961 announcement that the United States would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade, scientists at the University of Arizona were already creating lunar atlases. The moon maps, created by Gerard P. Kuiper – who is considered the father of modern-day planetary science – and his team, helped NASA understand the lunar surface, choose a landing site, demonstrate a precision landing with Apollo 12 and more.

How was the University of Arizona involved in the Apollo missions?

1960: Kuiper moved to Tucson in 1960 where he founded the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. The same year, the University of Chicago Press published the first two lunar atlases which were intended for use during telescope observations.

1963: The University of Arizona Press published the Rectified Lunar Atlas, which included the first images of undistorted features on the side of the moon, meant to look as they would from the perspective of an astronaut flying overhead.

1967: The UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory published Kuiper’s Consolidated Lunar Atlas in 1967 for the U.S. Air Force. This atlas showed lunar features in greater detail and resolution.

  • For the Ranger missions, Kuiper served as principal investigator and led the photographic analysis of the images taken as Ranger flew into the moon. Ranger’s target sites were also chosen by Kuiper’s team.
  • The UA also participated in the Surveyor missions, and Kuiper’s team helped to locate where the Surveyor spacecraft landed on the moon. Surveyor 3, which was found by a member of Kuiper’s team, was used to demonstrate a pinpoint landing with Apollo 12.
  • Kuiper established modern planetary science. The UA still is a leader in the field today.
  • Geoscientists, partnered with the USGS in Flagstaff, helped the Kuiper’s graduate students and Apollo astronauts think about the moon geologically.
three scientists looking at a graphic of the moon


Kuiper’s other accomplishments of note:

  • The Kuiper Belt, the outer ring of icy and rocky bodies surrounding the solar system, is named after the UA planetary scientist.
  • Kuiper also discovered moons around Uranus and Neptune.
  • He correctly predicted that carbon dioxide is a major component of the Martian atmosphere.
  • He also predicted that the lunar surface would feel like “crunchy snow,” which was confirmed by Neil Armstrong in 1969.

UArizona Experts

Timothy Swindle headshot image

Timothy Swindle

Director & Professor, UA Lunar and Planetary Lab

Department Head & Professor, UA Department of Planetary Sciences

As director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Timothy Swindle has a broad knowledge of the history of the moonshot and the University of Arizona's role. He is also an expert in impact craters and lunar samples.

Swindle uses measurements of the noble gases in extraterrestrial materials – lunar samples and meteorites – to study the evolution of the solar system. His research projects include using 40Ar-39Ar dating to determine the timing of impact events on the Moon and on asteroids, and studying Martian meteorites to understand the history of the Martian atmosphere and its interaction with surface materials.

William Hartmann headshot image

William Hartmann

Senior Scientist Emeritus, Planetary Science Institute

Space artist & author

William Hartmann was a graduate student under Gerard Kuiper and an LPL faculty member in the 1960s. He helped create some of the first lunar atlases that NASA used to guide the Ranger, Surveyor and Apollo missions. Additionally, he and his PSI colleague and UA alum, Don Davis, developed the Giant Impact Theory, a now well-established theory on the origin of the moon.

Stephen Larson headshot image

Stephen Larson

Senior Staff Scientist, UA Lunar & Planetary Laboratory

Stephen Larson was a co-author on the moon atlases. As a scientist at LPL, his research interests include asteroid surveys and small bodies.

Lynn Carter headshot image

Lynn Carter

Associate Professor, UA Lunar & Planetary Laboratory

Associate Professor, UA Department of Planetary Sciences

Lynn Carter’s research interests include volcanism and impact cratering on the terrestrial planets and Moon, surface properties of asteroids and outer Solar System moons, planetary analog field studies, climate change and the development of radar remote sensing techniques. She is a team member on five spacecraft instruments: SHARAD on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter; Mini-RF on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter; RIMFAX on Mars2020; REASON on the Europa flagship mission; and Shadowcam on Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter.

Alfred McEwen headshot image

Alfred McEwen

Director, Planetary Image Research Laboratory

Professor, UA Lunar & Planetary Laboratory

Professor, UA Department of Planetary Sciences

Professor, UA Department of Geosciences

Alfred McEwen is the principal investigator for HiRISE, the instrument that takes the highest-resolution images of the surface of Mars, and part of the imaging team for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. His major research interest is understanding active geologic processes such as volcanism, impact cratering, and slope processes. He is also the principal investigator of a proposed mission to Jupiter's hyperactive moon Io.

Laboratory's solar system legacy |

Apollo 11 is paving a path from the moon to Mars | CNN

Astronauts, not robots, essential to getting answers on the moon | UPI

Apollo moon rocks may unlock more secrets about our solar system | NBC News

NASA to open Moon rock samples sealed for 50 years | FOX News

Moon maps, lunar origins, and everything between | SpaceRef

Modern analysis of Apollo moon rocks | SpaceRef

Pristine Apollo samples – "Secrets that scientists are only beginning to uncover" | Daily Galaxy

How University of Arizona guided men to the moon | LA Daily Post

NASA lunar expert to speak | Sahuarita Sun

Here's how the UA guided men to the moon | AZ Big Media

These young scientists will shape the next 50 years of moon research | Nature

Apollo 11 50th anniversary: Here's where to celebrate the moon landing around Arizona | The Arizona Republic

How ASU, University of Arizona scientists helped Apollo astronauts land on the moon | The Arizona Republic

Exploring a desert portal to other worlds |

A desert portal to other worlds | Space Daily

Celebrations to kick-off at Flandrau for 50th anniversary of Apollo moon landing | KGUN9-TV

The UA is celebrating its role in the moon landing with a constellation of festivities | This Is Tucson

Moon memories | Arizona Daily Star

How the UA guided men to the moon | Arizona Daily Star

Mapping the moon for Apollo | The Conversation

UA scientists mark moon landing's 50th anniversary | Arizona Public Media

How the first men on the moon got ready to geologize there | Forbes

UA recounts NASA work on eve of Apollo anniversary | Tucson Local Media

Remembering that fateful step for mankind, 50 years later | Tucson Local Media

XOXO: Where to Rock | Tucson Weekly

Apollo 11 Anniversary: Fun ways to celebrate in Phoenix — and Beyond | Phoenix New Times

Tucson celebrating lunar landing with films, exhibits, Tang cocktails | Arizona Daily Star

Apollo 11 in Arizona: How the Copper State helped blaze a trail to the moon | KJZZ-Radio

How the UA helped blaze a trail to the moon | CBS Radio News

Apollo anniversary | Tucson Weekly

America observes 50th anniversary of historic moon landing with elaborate events | DOGO News

Why the 1969 moon landing still inspires space explorers today | KTVQ-TV

Letter: A link to Apollo 11 | Concord Monitor

A whole new moon | Mashable