The Half-Astrophysicist Blog

To The Moon…Two For One Special

Tomorrow is a big day for our continued exploration of the Moon.  NASA is launching two missions on one Atlas 5 rocket…currently scheduled for 5:12pm EDT. 

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (or LRO).  It will go into orbit around the Moon with a suite of instruments to measure temperature, gravity, and UV albedo.  That may not sound exciting, but the really cool part is it will have a very high resolution camera (almost identical to the one on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) that will be able to take pictures with a resolution as fine as 18 inches…the pictures from this are going to be spectacular!  LRO will be searching for good landing sites with an emphasis on the polar regions, a likely spot for a lunar base.

The second mission is the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS).   LCROSS will separate from LRO shortly after launch (and it’s a good thing too as you will see!)  and engage in a long, looping series of orbits around the Earth before heading to the Moon.  LCROSS will take along the Centaur upper stage that put it into orbit.  The upper stage will separate from the other piece, called the Shepherding Spacecraft, and head on a collision course with the Moon.  The upper stage will crash into the Moon blasting a small crater.  The Sheperding Spacecraft will follow the upper stage and fly through the cloud of debris kicked up by the upper stage.  The Shepherding Spacecraft will take pictures and data as it flies through the debris on the way to its own crash landing.  The impact will take place sometime in October (exact day and time TBD and depends on the exact launch time).  NASA is going to time the impace to that it can be observed from the U.S.  Amateur and professionals astonomers will train their telescopes at the Moon in hopes of seeing the impact…and it better be clear here in Tucson that night!

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June 18, 2009 - Posted by | Astronomy, NASA, Solar System

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