The first time anyone has achieved one-way laser communication at planetary distances
Since mid-2009, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been, as its name would suggest, circling the moon. As its name would also suggest, the little satellite -- skimming the lunar service at a distance of 31 miles -- is also doing some scouting on our behalf: In its two-and-a-half years of lunar orbit, the satellite has created valuable gravitational maps of the moon, documented the trash humans have left on the lunar surface, and otherwise increased our knowledge about our nearest planetary neighbor.
Now, the lunar satellite has done something else, too: served as a surface for art. Specifically, for the most iconic piece of art we have: the Mona Lisa.
And the spacecraft has done that, unsurprisingly, in the service of science. Researchers at NASA Goddard wanted to test the capabilities of lasers as conduits for interplanetary communication -- and the LRO, as it turned out, was the only satellite orbiting around a body other than Earth that is currently tracked by laser. (For the most part, satellites orbiting non-Earth planets rely on radio waves for tracking and other communications.) And the Mona Lisa, for its part, was both easily recognizable and appropriately epic for some interplanetary artwork.