NASA's new moon mission: ram it with a rocket, look for ice

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meliesmoonman.jpg

Ice, ice, baby. NASA is looking for it in our own backyard again - this time on the moon.

Just two days after the Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced the discovery of a giant, previously invisible ring around Saturn, the space agency is looking for another hidden gem in our solar system - evidence of water on the dark side of the moon - and they're pulling out all the stops to find it.

moon pole.jpgWell, technically, it's only two stops being pulled. The plan, see the video walkthrough here, is to basically ram an Atlas V rocket into the crater Cabeus on the moon's south pole so a probe can analyze the debris thrown into the the sky for evidence of water. Then that probe wil smash into the moon's surface to create a debris field for Eartbound and orbital observers to study.

Here's how the obviously giddy NASA folks explain the process:

Just imagine. A spaceship plunges out of the night sky, hits the ground and explodes. A plume of debris billows back into the heavens, leading your eye to a second ship in hot pursuit. Four minutes later, that one hits the ground, too. It's raining spaceships!

And you thought science wasn't fun? It's like a galactic smashup derby up there! But why go to the trouble of finding what at best would be evidence of water on a molecular level? Moon Base Alpha, baby!

A discovery of ice could give future explorers a vital supply of drinking water or, by breaking it down into hydrogen and oxygen, air for breathing or rocket fuel, according to the rocket scientists.

NASA researchers will analyze the data and compare notes with other observatories to confirm if water was detected in the plume, said Jonas Dino, a spokesman for NASA. Photos of the impact will be released within hours of the event, while a report on the findings will take months to prepare, he said.

"These craters have floors that have not seen sunlight for perhaps billions of years," said Dino, who works at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. "So it would be one of those places where we would have ancient ice that we can possibly sample in the future to see how the solar system was formed."

LCROSS 1.jpgThe mission is dubbed LCROSS, for Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite, seen to the right in an artist rendering. The rocket propelling the satellite will detach first and smash into the moon's surface, creating a crater about 20 meters wide and 3 meters deep and disturbing about 250 metric tons of lunar dust, NASA said. The cloud will be visible to some Earth observers with telescopes of 10 inches to 12 inches and larger. Or, you can watch a couple of other ways, says NASA:

First, turn on NASA TV. The space agency will broadcast the action live from the Moon, with coverage beginning Friday morning at 5:15 a.m. Central time. The first hour or so, pre-impact, will offer expert commentary, status reports from mission control, camera views from the spacecraft, and telemetry-based animations.

The actual impacts commence at 6:30 a.m. The Centaur rocket will strike first, transforming 2200 kg of mass and 10 billion joules of kinetic energy into a blinding flash of heat and light. Researchers expect the impact to throw up a plume of debris as high as 10 km.

Close behind, the LCROSS mothership will photograph the collision for NASA TV and then fly right through the debris plume. Onboard spectrometers will analyze the sunlit plume for signs of water (H2O), water fragments (OH), salts, clays, hydrated minerals and assorted organic molecules.

We mere mortals stuck back home have a fighting chance of watching the show, though with fairly common telescope equipment:

"We expect the debris plumes to be visible through mid-sized backyard telescopes - 10 inches and larger," says Brian Day of NASA/Ames. Day is an amateur astronomer and the Education and Public Outreach Lead for LCROSS. "The initial explosions will probably be hidden behind crater walls, but the plumes will rise high enough above the crater's rim to be seen from Earth."

The Pacific Ocean and western parts of North America are favored with darkness and a good view of the moon at the time of impact. Hawaii is the best place to be, with Pacific coast states are a close second, says NASA. Any place west of the Mississippi River, however, is a potential observing site.

When the plumes emerge from Cabeus, they will be illuminated by sunshine streaming over the polar terrain. The crater itself will be in the dark, however, permanently shadowed by its own walls. "That's good," says Day. "The crater's shadows will provide a dark backdrop for viewing the sunlit plumes."

LCROSS is part of NASA's $120 billion plan to return to the moon by 2020 as a step toward the eventual goal of a manned mission to Mars and comes the just as the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing was celebrated this summer.

Dating to at least 1999, when a lunar mission detected water signatures from the supposedly bone-dry moon, NASA scientists have pondered whether ice left from comet impacts may have pooled and cooled in the permanently shaded potholes - probably strangers to sunlight for billions of years - dotting the lunar poles. In 2004, when the Bush administration pushed for moon bases, glaciers hidden in those craters looked attractive as water and fuel sources for future moon colonists.

Last month, Science magazine reported evidence of water migrating out of the lunar soil in the solar wind, or streams of gas particles from the sun, and perhaps some of the water ended up in those shaded craters.

The discovery has potential, though. Future astronauts might conceivably wring enough water from not-completely-desiccated lunar "soil" to drink or even to fuel their rockets. Equally enticing, the water seems to be on its way to the poles, where it could be pumping up subsurface ice deposits that would be a real water bonanza.

There is the chance this is a big bang for nothing. That 1999 prospecting expedition didn't turn up so much as drop of hope. The year before, the probe had detected hydrogen at the moon's polar region.

"Water on the moon has haunted us for years," says William Hartmann of the Planetary Science Institute. "It's all part of humanity's quest to understand our nearby cosmic environment."

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31 Comments

This is going to be the most amazing thing that ever happened to me.I will finally know if their is ice or water on the moon.In a few years we might be able to live on the moon!!!

If it were me, I'd slam two spaceships into Afganistan instead. Take that OBL!

Looking forward to watching this as it unfolds...

My eight year old son has just posed a question that I bet the folk at NASA haven't actually thought about... He asked me, "What if there's life in the crater and the impact of the rocket kills it?"

Talk about having an insightful thinking process!

Classic.

Derek

It's not enough that we have totally stuffed this planet up - now we attempt to invade the universe - typical. Wouldn't it be better to spend the 120 million on cleaning up our act here on earth???????????

I would not mess with the natural balance of things. And yes there is so much more here that could be focused on. But who are we when they want to "play god"???

I agree with anita we have better things to spend our money on than to send a rocket to the moon to check for water or ice,our economys tanking that should deffinatly be on the top of our list.

water on the moon???..NASA intelligence = MORONS, there are people on THIS planet that dnt have food or WATER, lets shot the moon..serious i hope they stuff up TO THE EXTENT that they extinguish the moon, koz quite frankly..ur priorities are up ur ass!!!

P.S im prepared to pay the price...ARE YOU!!!

will the impact on the moon show any effect in ocean currants here on earth? or show in any other natural occurances?

Playing wd nature is not going to be fruitfull in ny way,what v r actually getting now after hvng so much inventions on earth.,the tsunami,katrina and all odr natural disaster wch actually v r facing now a dyas are just bcz of our carelessnes toward nature,,and now v r planning to destroy d moon 2 just bcz of our selfishnessss,,,are the nasa people crazy,,cn't dey spend d same amount to improve d condition of earth rdr dan just seeing d opportunity on odr planet,,,

Fucking with the moon seems like a really bad ideal?

First you would have to find a way to get a little bit more gravity and maybe an atmosphere but sure. I think they might just be looking for water for the planet we're already on.

The chances of actually finding water on the moon is slim to say the least, but still exciting in all its endeavorse. And the comment regarding life on the moon, well unfortunately it's virtually impossible that life has ever existed on the moon. The environment is just not "comfortable" enough to support life.

I just don't understand why... What if by doing this it off balances things on earth? the lunar effect on the oceans and waters here on Earth.. Crashing Something into the moon just seems like Playing with the fate of Human Kind as they do not know what effects it will have to Life on Earth such as the Gravitational pull of the Earth.. and Tidal Waves that could be created by Screwing with the Balance of the moon.. I feel it is the wrong thing to do.. But I guess we will see what happens.. We thought Global warming was bad.. But I feel we have seen nothing yet...
Did They Not See The Movie "The Time Machine" they tried to colonize the moon by blasting and it caused another Ice Age Here On Earth.. Just a thought.

@Anita - completely agree, especially as its actually 120 billion!

How far do we need to go, how much do we have to spend to ensure self-destruction!

it is a very exciting moment of my life i guess
every ones going to get horrified by this. and i am sacred if the pieces may reach earth.

Im not sure But its 10:44 Pm Australia Qld Time ANd i cant see the moon and my friends in NSW cant ever im wondering if somtihng happend to it?

Wow!That was amazing and crucial research.I hope they could find water and ice there.And,maybe,we could stay at moon (who knows?) for a few years later.

nice adds. i hve got what i desired

stop these innovation because now earth is not tollerate our innovation pls save the moon and entire solar system.
i believe in technology but how far we go why ? i don't understand.
just see Hindu Mythology and search what you want but don't damage the surface of moon.

billions to hit the moon, paycuts for education. unemployment at an all time high!!! something doesnt add up!!!! spend that kind of money here!!! and help our planet!

something bad will happen!! you think u can just blast the moon and there is nothing that will happen here on earth??? our world will end one day because some a-hole wants to see what they find out there. worry about all the problems we have here and try to fix it. we are destroying this beautiful earth!!

Who gave permision to nasa to blast the moon?? the moon doesnt belong to nasa or any of us!! what if by blasting the moon... nasa destroys our future?? did mankind get to vote on this? or did nasa and the government muscle us like they always do!

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Why is our government having such a difficult time deciding which projects to approve and which to reject? Here’s an easy guideline for you (since you’re having problems with decision making), in the future ask the following:

Would our country, AS A WHOLE, experience a benefit from this project AND would the country suffer a negative impact if we elect NOT to approve this project?

Applying the above litmus test to the question: Should we slam a rocket into the moon? A 5 year old could make the conclusive decision: NO!

Will the White House “people” pull their head out of their moon and start running this country with economics in mind? I am willing to put my profitable law practice on hold and offer my services as a financial decision maker for the country. If interested, please run my background check and contact me at my law office. My qualification are as follows: I have always run my business in the “green” since inception, I earned my B.A. and J.D. without going into debt (no scholarship; I actually watched how I spent my money and worked throughout college), and most importantly I have a backbone.

I look forward to your call,

Kristine McCardle
Attorney at Law
Financial Consultant to the Country (just trying out my new title)


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its sad to see we live on this earth and the people from nasa do what they want to do by smacking the moon and we have to sit here and watch these a-holes put all of our lives at risk!!! NOW WE HAVE TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT. i hope nothing bad happens to us.. i love this earth!

This kind of makes me scared for my life. The fact that we just bombed part of our moon but more so that people in charge of our nation made the decision that it was a good idea to do this.

- Families all over are losing their homes.
- Kids aren't getting the right educations.
- Everyone has debt collectors calling them.
- Health Care sucks, people aren't getting medications that they need because they don't have the money to pay for it

So many things just point to this being a terrible decision to spend our money on. And just to see if there is water? Really?

You know what it really is...
We just ran out of shit to shoot & destroy
So we've turned to other planets now.
Wonderful Job USA. Keep up the good work.

Maybe next month some brilliant scientist will decide to take a piece out of the Sun just for the heck of it.
Ya know, some extra back up rockets hanging around in case they missed the moon the first time around that need to be used up.

Haha. WTF guys, really?
Other countries already hate us.
I just have this feeling that this isn't going to make us more likable.


There seems to be a downward trend lately.
Anyone ever seen the movie Idiocracy?
When I first saw that I thought it was rediculous
Maybe it's not so off after all...

Thanks Tony for correcting the "million" to "billion" my mistake.
Another thought here guys, if another country slammed a rocket into the USA wouldn't that be a declaration of war? so now the good old USA is challenging someone else - the lunar people - and who says that there is no life - doesn't just have to be human life you know.

The moon doesn't exclusively belong to the US what do other countries think about this. Doesn't matter what our opinions are nobody listens to the American public any more. We just pay the bills......and any other taxes they want us to pay for the support of their causes.

give more pictures of water content of moon

Before anyone else continues with mindless stupid comments, I suggest that you all do a little bit more research regarding the purpose of "ramming a rocket into the moon" to find out if there is water...

If everyone would research the information from the direct source providing the correct information from NASA's official website (www.nasa.gov), instead of believing all the second hand information from other articles, you all would understand this real reason.

The real reason is to mine Helium 3! The search for Helium 3 will be the next "gold rush" of the 21st century, with Helium 3 being MUCH more valuable than gold due to its lack of abundance on the Earth, and its use to create clean nuclear fussion to provide a better energy sourch for the entire Earth!

Now listen to this... in order for us to mine the moon for helium 3, it would be a lot easier and a lot cheaper if the moon already had a natural water source; thus NASA just completed it's last lunar mission of "ramming a rocket into the moon" to determine exactly how much water, if any, is actually on the moon!

Just so everyone can understand this concept a little more, it costs an average of $30,000 to send one liter of water to the moon. If we can prove that water is already on the moon, the less we will need to take there so cost of the future missions could be reduced. Water on the moon can be changed to H for fuel and O2 for breathing plus water for hydration of living beings---humans. Spending now could save billions in the future... AND we would be able to mine the next most valuable product which is HELIUM 3! Understood?

I reccomend to everyone to continue to research this fascinating topic.

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    This page contains a single entry by Craig Newman published on October 8, 2009 12:10 PM.

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