Thursday, 28 Feb, 2008 Technology

NASA to Strike the Moon with a Double Sledgehammer


Two spacecrafts are going to be launched by NASA in hope of slamming into the South Pole of the moon and find out if the double explosion on the surface of the moon will be able to reveal the hidden water ice.

Undoubtedly the Earth-on-moon violence may lead to serious discussions on the topic, but the history of NASA demonstrates that such missions may bring a lot of useful information.

"I think that people are apprehensive about it because it seems violent or crude, but it's very economical," outlined Tony Colaprete, the mission's leading researcher at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

It is worth mentioning that the prior Lunar Prospector mission spotted large volume of hydrogen at the moon's poles before smashing itself into a crater found on the South Pole of the moon. The new mission, entitled Lunar Crater and Observation Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), is much larger. It will start on February 2009 and will focus on whether hydrogen is hidden on the moon's poles in form of frozen water.

LCROSS is going to piggyback on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission for an October 28 launch on top of an Atlas 5 rocket. The latter features a Centaur upper stage. As the launch carries LRO to the moon in about 4 days, LCROSS mission will begin its three-month trip to get to its proper moon smashing position. When the rocket is within range, its Centaur upper stage splits as the main 2,000 kg impactor spacecraft for LCROSS.

A smaller Shepherding Spacecraft will lead the Centaur to its target crater. Then it will retreat to watch the cloud of the moon dust and fragments kicked by the impact of Centaur and then fly through. The Shepherding Spacecraft in equipped with a light photometer, a light camera and 4 infrared cameras to perform the research of Centaur's lunar dust before it develops into a second impactor and then smashes another crater 4 minutes later.

"This payload delivery represents a new way of doing business for the center and the agency in general. LCROSS primarily is using commercial-off-the-shelf instruments on this mission to meet the mission's accelerated development schedule and cost restraints," mentioned Daniel Andrews, LCROSS project manager at Ames.

According to Colaprete, estimating the final destination of the LCROSS mission, which by the way costs $79 million, is "like trying to drive to San Francisco and not knowing where it is on the map." Together with other scientists working on this mission he looks forward to use the studies from LRO as well as the Japanese Kaguya (Selene) lunar orbiter in order to target the locations of the crater before the arrival of LCROSS.

"Nobody has ever been to the poles of the moon, and there are very unique craters - similar to Mercury - where sunlight doesn't reach the bottom," outlined Colaprete. The radar based on Earth was of much help in illuminating some eternally shadowed craters. Until LCROSS drives in, it can focus on its 30 km wide targets within 100 meters.

Researchers look forward for the impactor spacecraft to strike smooth plain areas away from the rocky ones. Flat areas will allow the moon dust, which will occur after the strike, to go up of the crater shadows and into the sunlight. The latter will allow LRO as well as telescopes on Earth to analyze the results.

"By understanding what's in these craters, we're examining a fossil record of the early solar system and would occurred at Earth 3 billion years ago," stated Colaprete.

At this time LCROSS aims at target craters named Faustini and Shoemaker. Colaprete likened the two craters "fantastic time capsules" that are 3 billion and 3.5 billion years old.

According to LCROSS researchers there is more than a 90 percent possibility that the impactors will discover hydrogen at the moon's poles.

LCROSS will smash into the moon's craters at a speed of 2.5 km per second. The total energy of the impact will rise 1,102 tons of moon fragments and dust.

Thanks to modern technology, we can finally see if the moon is made of cheese.  If it weren't for those bright men and women over at NASA, we wouldn't have satellite radio, internet or even cell phones.  Think how hard it would be get online music with no internet!  Perish the thought.

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