Last Thursday NASA launched two spacecrafts destined for the moon. The first, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, has just entered the moon’s orbit . For the next year it will hover 31 miles above the surface of the moon in order to gather high-resolution 3-D maps of the moon’s surface. Compiling data on lunar resources, features, and topography is a crucial step in plans to build a human outpost there by 2020.
As of today, the second spacecraft, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, completed its swingby of the moon, which allowed scientists to calibrate instruments and take return pictures of the far side of the moon. On October 9th, the satellite will have traveled back to the moon, where it is set to impact. NASA is hoping that the crash will scatter surface material that may aid in the search for water. "The impact will excavate a crater about 1/3 of a football field wide and about the depth of the deep end of a swimming pool...The amount of material (dust and probably ice) ejected could fill ten school buses, or ten Space Shuttle cargo bays. The plume will reach nearly 50 km high (over 30 miles)! "
These missions are all a part NASA’s long-term plan to create a lunar landing area and base where humans will one day live.
Image: "LRO, LCROSS Prepared to REturn United States and NASA to the Moon" by Goddard Video and Mulitmedia on flicker courtesy of Creative Commons.