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Volume 87 Issue 26 | p. 6 | News of The Week
Issue Date: June 29, 2009

Back To The Moon

NASA launches two probes to look for landing sites, search for water
Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: spacecraft, NASA, moon, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Lunar Crater Observation & Sensing Satellite, water
An animation of the LRO/LCROSS mission shows the spacecraft from launch to orbit and impact on the moon's surface.
Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
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Artist's rendition shows the LCROSS spacecraft after a stage of its launch rocket plunges to the moon, ejecting lunar surface material. The craft will search for water in the ejected material.
Credit: NASA
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Artist's rendition shows the LCROSS spacecraft after a stage of its launch rocket plunges to the moon, ejecting lunar surface material. The craft will search for water in the ejected material.
Credit: NASA

Two lunar space probes, launched on June 18 from Cape Canaveral, have begun orbiting the moon. They will look for landing sites and search for water.

An Atlas rocket carried aloft both the National Aeronautics & Space Administration's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and Lunar Crater Observation & Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), the two spacecraft. As they reached the moon, the two craft separated from each other to begin performing their respective duties.

On June 22, scientists monitored critical maneuvers that switched the LRO spacecraft from a direct beeline to a controlled orbit. After a tense half-hour, the craft had been "captured by the moon, so we're there!" said Mike Largo of NASA's exploration division.

"This is what we've been dreaming about," said Cathy Peddie, LRO deputy project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

LRO, which NASA bills as "leading the way back to the moon," will spend about two months settling into orbit. The craft will then begin mapping the lunar surface, examining potential landing sites.

Meanwhile, LCROSS is on an orbital path that will end in its suicide in October. Its goal is to search for water ice in the moon's perennially shadowed polar areas. Before it crashes, LCROSS will eject the spent second stage of its launch rocket, which will hit the surface, throwing up tons of moon debris. LCROSS and LRO instruments will look for water in the ejected material.

The two missions, which cost about $600 million, are the first of a series of projects under NASA's Vision for Space Exploration. The program was enacted by the Bush Administration in 2004 to further human exploration of the moon and Mars.

 
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