"D-Day" is fast approaching for NASA's Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS for short. This Friday morning, October 9, at 7:31 a.m. EDT/4:31 a.m. PDT, LCROSS will create two back-to-back impacts in crater Cabeus, one of the permanently shadowed craters at the South Pole of the Moon. By studying the plumes kicked up by these impacts, the LCROSS mission intends to confirm the presence or absence of water ice at the Moon’s South Pole.
Artist's rendering of the LCROSS spacecraft releasing the Centaur upper stage for the first impact. Image Credit: NASA
If you happen to be at a dark location where the Moon is visible at the time of the impacts, and if you have a telescope with a 10” to 12” aperture, you might want to gather some friends for a LCROSS impact viewing party. Such parties are planned at various locations, including a major event at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. Those of us in the Eastern time zone and farther to the east, will miss out on a direct viewing of the impacts because of the rising sun. But we are in luck because NASA will broadcast the event on NASA TV and on the NASA Website.
At 6:15 a.m. EDT, 3:15 a.m. PDT, NASA will begin live TV coverage for the LCROSS impacts on NASA TV and http://www.nasa.gov/ntv. The 1.5 hour broadcast will include live footage from spacecraft camera, real-time telemetry based animation, views of LCROSS Mission and Science Operations, broadcast commentary with expert guests, prepared video segments, views of the public impact viewing event at NASA Ames Research Center, and possible live footage from the University of Hawaii 88-inch telescope on Mauna Kea. Following the event, there will be at 10 a.m. EDT, 7 a.m. PDT, a live LCROSS post-impact news conference.
As mentioned here on September 30, the identification of water is very important to the future of human activities on the Moon. LCROSS will excavate the permanently dark floor of one of the Moon’s polar craters with two heavy impactors to test the theory that ancient ice lies buried there. The impact will eject material from the crater’s surface to create a plume that specialized instruments will be able to analyze for the presence of water (in the forms of ice and vapor), hydrocarbons and hydrated materials.
Like on Earth, water is a crucial resource on the Moon and it won't be practical for humans to carry with them all of the water they will need. It is critical to find natural resources, such as water, on the Moon. The LCROSS mission will begin NASA's direct search for water, leveraging the information that was learned from NASA'S Clementine and Lunar Prospector missions.
By going first to the Moon and staying there for extended periods of time, astronauts can search for resources and learn how to work safely in a harsh environment before moving out to other bodies in our solar system. In addition, a close up and extended study of the Moon can offer scientists insight to the time when the planets were formed.
A sister mission working with LCROSS is NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO. For the LCROSS mission, LRO will be observing and studying the results of the two impacts. Following that, LRO will continue to scout for safe and compelling landing sites for future lunar missions, locate potential resources (with special attention to the possibility of water ice) and characterize the effects of prolonged exposure to the lunar radiation environment. In addition to its exploration mission, LRO will also return rich scientific data that will help us to better understand the moon’s topography and composition.
I remember well the NASA Deep Impact mission and the tremendous impact plume kicked up on Comet Temple 1 back on July 4, 2005. Our Moon’s gravity is greater than Temple 1, but I hope these two impacts do that plume justice. Beyond that, I just hope the mission is a big success.
Back on June 18, LCROSS and LRO began their missions from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, sharing a ride aboard an Atlas V first stage with a Centaur upper stage. Since the launch, the mission teams have been using their returning data, along with data from other current and past lunar missions, to refine the targeting for the impacts. The first impactor will be the Centaur upper stage, which has been guided by the LCROSS spacecraft. Following its observations of the first impact, LCROSS itself will then dive in, creating the second impact.
To watch the coverage online, and to keep current on the missions, stay tuned to these sites:
NASA's Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) Mission
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Mission
NASA Ames Research Center