Skip Navigation


USRA is at the forefront of lunar and planetary research, bringing together world-class scientists to investigate Earth's cosmic neighbors.

USRA has maintained a strong, continuous connection to lunar science since its formation during the Apollo era. Current research includes:


Understanding the origins of rocks and other materials of the solar systems is enabled by analog experiments, subjecting those materials to appropriate physical and chemical conditions in the laboratory. USRA lunar scientists and their colleagues at NASA Johnson Space Center maintain and use a world-class facility for experimental studies of rock materials - subjecting them to pressures, temperatures, and chemical conditions appropriate to the surfaces and deep interiors of planets, satellites, and asteroids.


Arecibo ObservatoryThrough ongoing investigations at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, USRA scientists are observing and studying echoes from asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, Jupiter's Galilean satellites, and Saturn's rings and satellites. Additionally, scientists are using the radar instrument for imaging and refining the orbits of Earth-approaching asteroids and comet nuclei, and for detailed geologic investigations of Mercury, Venus, Mars, and the Moon.


The topography (or landscape) of planetary surfaces is crucial for understanding their origins and evolutions, along with the benefits and challenges they would raise in exploration. USRA lunar and planetary scientists maintain strong expertise in producing topographic data (digital elevation models) and constructing visualizations of that data (static and dynamic 'fly-overs') focused on specific needs for research and exploration.


Physical processes in the Earth and other planetary bodies are commonly impossible to measure directly and require high-end computer modeling constrained by observations. USRA's Lunar and Planetary Institute maintains the machine capability and expertise for such modeling (finite-element) of processes in the interiors of planets, satellites, and asteroids. Additionally, USRA scientists have significant capabilities in interpretation of Mars mission data and modeling of Mars surface and interior processes.


USRA scientist at Vredefort Crater outcropThe Moon, being the planetary body nearest the Earth, is a natural target for scientific exploration. USRA lunar scientists maintain a diverse expertise in lunar geology, including specific expertise in lunar history, impact cratering, remote sensing and volatiles, and resources. Such expertise has been frequently tasked with providing input into NASA planning activities for future robotic and human exploration.


Lunar and Planetary Institute

For 40 years, under USRA's management, the Lunar and Planetary Institute has provided leadership in the scientific community for research in lunar, planetary, and solar system sciences, and linkage with related terrestrial programs.