May 21, 2009

NASA plans Lunar robotic missions

The U.S. space agency says it plans to launch two satellites that are designed to gather new information about the moon.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the satellites -- to be launched June 17 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida -- are the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite.

NASA said the LRO will help identify safe landing sites for future manned lunar missions, locate potential resources, characterize the radiation environment and test new technology.

The other satellite, know as LCROSS, will seek a definitive answer about the presence of water ice at the lunar poles. Space agency scientists said LCROSS will use the spent second stage Atlas Centaur rocket in an unprecedented way by crashing onto the moon's surface.

The impact of the Centaur rocket is expected to result in a six-mile-high debris plume, which will be searched by astronomers for evidence of water ice by examining the plume in direct sunlight.

NASA said data from LRO and LCROSS -- the first missions launched by the space agency's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate -- will be used to advance goals of future human exploration of the solar system.