Science and Exploration

Martian Crater Brings Back Memories of Apollo 16 Lunar Mission

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
June 16, 2017
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Martian Crater Brings Back Memories of Apollo 16 Lunar Mission
Apollo 16 at Plum Crater

Forty-five years after astronauts on NASA’s Apollo 16 mission explored the surface of the Moon, a crater recently found on Mars similar to one investigated earlier by the astronauts was informally named for the lunar mission.
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity passed near a young Martian crater this spring that was similar in size to lunar crater explored by Apollo 16 astronauts, and a connection between the two missions was made.

Opportunity’s science team informally named the Martian feature “Orion Crater” in honor of the Apollo 16 lunar module Orion, which carried astronauts Charles Duke and John Young to and from the surface of the Moon in April 1972 while crewmate Ken Mattingly piloted the Apollo 16 command module Casper in orbit around the Moon.

Opportunity’s Panoramic Camera (Pancam) took component images for this view of Orion Crater on April 26, 2017. The crater is about 90 feet (27 meters) wide and estimated to be no older than 10 million years.

“It turns out that Orion Crater is almost exactly the same size as Plum Crater on the Moon, which John Young and Charles Duke explored on their first of three moonwalks taken while investigating the lunar surface using their lunar rover,” said Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist Jim Rice, Opportunity science-team member who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Rice sent Duke the Pancam mosaic of Mars’ Orion Crater, and Duke responded, “This is fantastic. What a great job! I wish I could be standing on the rim of Orion like I was standing on the rim of Plum Crater 45 years ago.”

Visit to see a photo of NASA Astronaut Charles Duke collecting lunar samples at Plum Crater in 1972.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.