NASA will crash $496 million pair of probes into moon: What will we learn from it?


By Staff, The Space Reporter | December 15, 2012

NASA will crash $496 million pair of probes into moon: What will we learn from it?

A smashing mission.

A pair of NASA probes will reportedly crash into the surface of the moon later this month, part of a planned mission to study the surface of Earth’s nearest neighbor. The mission finale has left astronomers around the world questioning exactly what NASA hopes to gain.

The mission, which began earlier this year, is the U.S. space agency’s most ambitious attempt yet to study the inner-workings of the  moon. Speaking Thursday, NASA officials said Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission controllers tasked with operating the pair of the probes have already began taking steps to engineer a controlled crash into the lunar surface.

“Twin lunar-orbiting NASA spacecraft that have allowed scientists to learn more about the internal structure and composition of the moon are being prepared for their controlled descent and impact on a mountain near the moon’s north pole at about 2:28 p.m. PST (5:28 p.m. EST) Monday, December 17,” NASA officials said in a statement.

The crash landing, which will conclude the year-long mission, could yield valuable data for scientists here on Earth. The mission has already provided astronomers with key data concerning the surface of the moon and its evolution. GRAIL’s primary mission took place from March to May, during which the spacecraft zipped around the moon at an average altitude of 34 miles. Ebb and Flow, the names assigned to the pair of probes, have extensively studied the moon’s gravitational field, creating one of the most detailed maps of the moons gravitational field.

“GRAIL has produced the highest-resolution, highest-quality gravity field for any planet in the solar system, including Earth,” GRAIL principal investigator Maria Zuber, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), told reporters during a press conference.

“It is going to be difficult to say goodbye,” added Zuber. “Our little robotic twins have been exemplary members of the GRAIL family, and planetary science has advanced in a major way because of their contributions.”

The mountain where the two spacecraft will make contact is located near a crater named Goldschmidt, according to NASA. Both spacecraft will hit the surface at 3,760 mph (1.7 kilometers per second); no imagery of the impact is expected because the region will be in shadow at the time, the space agency said.

While the crash landing is drawing a lot of attention to the mission itself, a number of people have questioned whether the probes will endanger the historic moon landing sites. In a statement released through the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, NASA officials explained that the location would not endanger any of the lunar sites.

“NASA wanted to rule out any possibility of our twins hitting the surface anywhere near any of the historic lunar exploration sites like the Apollo landing sites or where the Russian Luna probes touched down,” said David Lehman, GRAIL project manager at NASA’s JPL. “Our navigators calculated the odds before this maneuver as about seven in a million. Now, after these two successful rocket firings, there is zero chance.”

At an estimated cost of $496 million, the notion of intentionally crashing a pair of probes into the moon has raised some eyebrows. However, Recent research suggests Earth may have had a second smaller moon that collided with our present moon, producing a mountainous region. The GRAIL mission may help flush out that theory, Zuber said, as crashing the probes will likely eject a large amount of material that will yield endless data.

One thing is for certain, though: regardless of price, our fascination with the moon will continue.

“Nearly every human who’s every lived has looked up at the moon and admired it,” said Zuber. “The moon has played a really central role in the human imagination and the human psyche.”


Have something to say? Let us know in the comments section or send an email to the author. You can share ideas for stories by contacting us here.

Comments
Seven planetary missions receive NASA extensions Seven planetary missions receive NASA extensions
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 05, 2014

Milky Way part of newly discovered supercluster Milky Way part of newly discovered supercluster
Andrew McDonald - Sep 04, 2014

Life after NASA: Astronauts' careers after returning to Earth Life after NASA: Astronauts' careers after returning to Earth
Andrew McDonald - Sep 03, 2014

ISS to get first ever 3D printer in space ISS to get first ever 3D printer in space
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 02, 2014

Geckos sent to space in Russian sex experiment return dead Geckos sent to space in Russian sex experiment return dead
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 02, 2014

New cryotank passes NASA tests New cryotank passes NASA tests
Andrew McDonald - Sep 02, 2014

Mars to be prominent in September evening sky Mars to be prominent in September evening sky
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 01, 2014

Flash memory on Opportunity rover computer to be reformatted Flash memory on Opportunity rover computer to be reformatted
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 01, 2014

Early galaxy 'Sparky' was a star factory Early galaxy 'Sparky' was a star factory
Andrew McDonald - Aug 29, 2014

NASA’s “Swarmies” tested for use in space NASA’s “Swarmies” tested for use in space
Andrew McDonald - Aug 29, 2014

ESA observatory catches white dwarf going supernova ESA observatory catches white dwarf going supernova
Andrew McDonald - Aug 29, 2014

Researchers detect neutrinos in the Sun's core Researchers detect neutrinos in the Sun's core
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 29, 2014

Spitzer telescope observes colliding asteroids around young star Spitzer telescope observes colliding asteroids around young star
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 29, 2014

NASA’s Space Launch System moves toward development stage NASA’s Space Launch System moves toward development stage
Andrew McDonald - Aug 27, 2014

Martian rock deemed unsuitable for Curiosity rover's drilling Martian rock deemed unsuitable for Curiosity rover's drilling
Andrew McDonald - Aug 27, 2014

Telescopes capture unprecedented view of early colliding galaxies Telescopes capture unprecedented view of early colliding galaxies
Andrew McDonald - Aug 26, 2014

Five possible landing spots chosen for Rosetta probe Five possible landing spots chosen for Rosetta probe
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 26, 2014

Thigh bone on Mars? NASA weighs in Thigh bone on Mars? NASA weighs in
Ross Cronkrite - Aug 26, 2014

Fermilab experiment questions nature of the universe Fermilab experiment questions nature of the universe
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 26, 2014

NASA may delay commercial contract award after failed SpaceX launch NASA may delay commercial contract award after failed SpaceX launch
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 26, 2014

NASA restores Voyager's historic footage of Neptune's strange moon Triton NASA restores Voyager's historic footage of Neptune's strange moon Triton
Ross Cronkrite - Aug 26, 2014

Pluto-bound probe crosses orbit of Neptune Pluto-bound probe crosses orbit of Neptune
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 25, 2014

SpaceX Falcon 9 flew with 3D-printed component SpaceX Falcon 9 flew with 3D-printed component
Andrew McDonald - Aug 22, 2014

High resolution satellite launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base High resolution satellite launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 22, 2014

Tiny Peruvian satellite released from ISS Tiny Peruvian satellite released from ISS
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 22, 2014

Rare black hole confirmed using light oscillations Rare black hole confirmed using light oscillations
Andrew McDonald - Aug 22, 2014

Russian space official claims plankton grew on exterior of ISS Russian space official claims plankton grew on exterior of ISS
Andrew McDonald - Aug 22, 2014

In ancient star, scientists find material from early universe In ancient star, scientists find material from early universe
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 22, 2014

Boeing meets deadline for designing commercial spacecraft Boeing meets deadline for designing commercial spacecraft
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 21, 2014