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NASA Lunar Mission Successfully Enters Moon Orbit

NASA Lunar Mission Successfully Enters Moon Orbit

California: At 4:31 a.m. Pacific time, one piece of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite — LCROSS, for short — will slam into the bottom of the crater at 5,600 miles per hour, excavating about 350 metric tons of the moon and leaving behind a hole about 65 feet wide and 13 feet deep.

NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite drop its Centaur upper-stage rocket on the lunar surface of the moon. NASA hopes the impact will kick up enough dust to help the LCROSS probe find the presence of water in the moon’s soil. Four minutes later, the LCROSS will follow through the debris plume, collecting and relaying data back to Earth before crashing into the Cabeus crater near the moon’s south pole.
The LCROSS is carrying spectrometers, near-infrared cameras, a visible camera and a visible radiometer. These instruments will help NASA scientists analyze the plume of dust — more than 250 metric tons’ worth — for water vapor.

The orbiting Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will watch, and photograph, the collisions. And hundreds of telescopes on Earth also will be focused on the two plumes.

After a four and a half day journey from the Earth, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has successfully entered orbit around the moon. Engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., confirmed the spacecraft’s lunar orbit insertion at 6:27 a.m. EDT 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 buildup the dataset needed to understand in greater detail the lunar topography, features and resources. We are so proud to be a part of this exciting mission and NASA’s planned return to the moon.”

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. The spacecraft’s 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.

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