Tuesday, April 11, 2006 11:22 IST
HOUSTON: NASA plans to crash a small spacecraft into the moon to ascertain whether the planet harbours water that could be used for manned missions.
The US space agency said yesterday that this will be an early step in delivering the first astronauts to the planet since the last Apollo missions more than 30 years ago.
The name of the mission is LCROSS — Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite — will hitch a ride to the moon onboard the same rocket as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) satellite due to launch from the Kennedy Space Centre in October 2008.
"The LCROSS mission gives the agency an excellent opportunity to answer the question about water ice on the moon," says Daniel Andrews of NASA Ames, whose team proposed LCROSS. "We think we have assembled a very creative, highly innovative mission."
LCROSS will hunt for water by hitting the moon twice, throwing up plumes that may contain signs of water. After the launch, the LCROSS spacecraft will arrive in the moon’s vicinity independent of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
The LCROSS spacecraft’s two main parts, the Shepherding Spacecraft (S-S/C) and the Earth Departure Upper Stage (EDUS), will remain coupled on the way to the moon. As the pair approaches the moon’s south pole, the upper stage will separate, and then hit a crater in the south pole area.
A plume from the upper stage crash will develop as the Shepherding Spacecraft heads in toward the moon. The Shepherding Spacecraft will fly through the plume using its
instruments to analyse the cloud for signs of water and other compounds. Additional space and Earth-based instruments also will study the 1000-metric-ton plume.
This type of payload is not new to NASA," says Associate Administrator for the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Scott Horowitz, who made the selection. "We are taking advantage of the payload capability of the launch vehicle to conduct additional high risk/high payoff science to meet Vision for Space Exploration goals."