Lunar Impacts Set For Oct. 9
Two NASA spacecraft are healthy and ramping up their systems, poised for pioneering lunar missions that will net key information for future manned U.S. explorations and settlements on the moon.
One craft is the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, while the other is the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS.
They will perform functions ranging from mapping the moon, examining it for the best landing sites for manned missions, and to find frozen water, focusing on a permanently shadowed crater at the moon's south pole.
Water is more valuable than gold for any extended human presence on the moon or another planet, because water, the universal solvent, is also the universal sustainer of life.
By itself, water provides drinking water for astronauts and irrigation for growing crops. (Bringing the enormous weight of a two-year supply of food to, say, Mars would be highly impractical.)
Further, water is H2O, hydrogen and oxygen. That means oxygen to breathe for astronauts, and for crops. And the hydrogen provides fuel for heating homes and offices in a lunar encampment, and for powering moon buggies for astronauts to tour the lunar landscape. Further, hydrogen can be fuel for electrical power generation critical to light, communications, computers and more. And the best part of any water on the moon is that NASA doesn't have to buy rockets to move even one ounce of aqua from Earth to the pale orb.
After a four and a half day journey from the Earth, the LRO entered orbit around the moon. Engineers at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., confirmed the spacecraft's lunar orbit insertion at 6:27 a.m. ET Tuesday.
During transit to the moon, engineers performed a mid-course correction to get the spacecraft in the proper position to reach its lunar destination. Since the moon is always moving, the spacecraft shot for a target point ahead of the moon. When close to the moon, LRO used its rocket motor to slow down until the gravity of the moon caught the spacecraft in lunar orbit.
"Lunar orbit insertion is a crucial milestone for the mission," said Cathy Peddie, LRO deputy project manager at Goddard. "The LRO mission cannot begin until the moon captures us. Once we enter the moon's orbit, we can begin to build up the dataset needed to understand in greater detail the lunar topography, features and resources."
A series of four engine burns over the next four days will put the satellite into its commissioning phase orbit. During the commissioning phase each of its seven instruments is checked out and brought online. The commissioning phase will end approximately 60 days after launch, when LRO will use its engines to transition to its primary mission orbit.
For its primary mission, LRO will orbit above the moon at about 31 miles, or 50 kilometers, for one year. Spacecraft instruments will help scientists compile high resolution, three-dimensional maps of the lunar surface, and also survey it at many spectral wavelengths.
The satellite will explore the moon's deepest craters, examining permanently sunlit and shadowed regions, and provide understanding of the effects of lunar radiation on humans. LRO will return more data about the moon than any previous mission.