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NASA to crash two spacecraft into a moon mountain

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MIT/GSFC

This image shows the variations in the lunar gravity field as measured by NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) during the primary mapping mission from March to May 2012. Very precise microwave measurements between two spacecraft, named Ebb and Flow, were used to map gravity with high precision and high spatial resolution.

The mission impact of NASA's "Ebb" and "Flow" spacecraft will be met with a literal impact when the twin space probes crash into the moon next week. 

The space agency announced Thursday that the flying robots are set for a planned smashing following their successful GRAIL mission to create a lunar gravity map

It must be so great to work at NASA. 

Scientist 1: Hey, do you know about moon gravity?

Scientist 2: Not really.

Scientist 1: Wanna map it?

Scientist 2: Sure.

Scientist 1: Should we get a couple of washing machines and turn 'em into spaceships?

Scientist 2: Totally.

Scientist 1: And then crash them into the moon when we're done and see what happens?

Scientist 2: Yep.

Scientist 1: Cool.

In reality, scientists say the twins — in orbit around the moon and flying in formation since Jan. 1, 2012 — are too small to cause a crash that's visible from Earth. They are expected to make contact with a mountain near the north pole.

The duo are being purposely sent into into the lunar surface because "their low orbit and low fuel levels preclude further scientific operations," says NASA

But first, just one more thing.

They will fire their main engines until their propellant tanks are empty to determine precisely the amount of fuel remaining in their tanks. This will help NASA engineers validate fuel consumption computer models to improve predictions of fuel needs for future missions.

"Our lunar twins may be in the twilight of their operational lives, but one thing is for sure, they are going down swinging," said GRAIL project manager David Lehman of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Said Lehman of the impending crash, "nobody I know around here has ever flown into a moon mountain before. It'll be a first for us."

CRASH DETAILS

  • Fuel burn scheduled to take place Friday morning, Dec. 14.
  • Estimated time of crash of first crash: Monday, Dec. 17, 2:28 p.m. PST. 
  • Ebb will be the first to go down at 2:28:40 p.m. PST.
  • Flow will follow about 20 seconds later.
  • Both spacecraft will hit the surface at 3,760 mph (1.7 kilometers per second)
  • No imagery of the impact is expected because the region will be in shadow at the time.

PREVIOUSLY, IN KPCC MOON NEWS

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