February 2, 2012
GRAIL Spacecraft Returns First Video
[ Watch the Video ]
NASA's Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission has returned its first unique view of the far side of the moon.
The space agency said that in the video, the north pole of the moon is visible at the top of the screen as the spacecraft flies toward the lunar south pole.
One prominent geological feature seen on the lower third of the moon is the mare Orientale, which is a 560-mile wide crater that lies on both the moon's near and far side.
Towards the end of the video, GRAIL shows the rugged terrain just short of the lunar south pole. It shows off the 93 mile-wide Drygalski crater, which forms a distinctive star-shape.
"The quality of the video is excellent and should energize our MoonKAM students as they prepare to explore the moon," Maria Zuber, GRAIL principal investigator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, said in a press release.
GRAIL consists of two identical spacecraft, each equipped with a MoonKAM. The images were taken as part of a test of the MoonKAM on Ebb, one of the spacecraft.
Both spacecraft in the mission successfully achieved lunar orbit on this past New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.
NASA said thousands of fourth- and eighth-grade students will select target areas on the lunar surface and send requests to the GRAIL MoonKAM Mission Operations Center in San Diego to view the areas.
"We have had great response from schools around the country, more than 2,500 signed up to participate so far," Sally Ride, America's first woman in space and leader of the MoonKAM program, said in a press release. "In mid-March, the first pictures of the moon will be taken by students using MoonKAM. I expect this will excite many students about possible careers in science and engineering."
During their mission, the two spacecraft will answer questions about the moon and help scientists better understand how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system are formed.
Image Caption: South pole of the far side of the moon as seen from the GRAIL mission's Ebb spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/Caltech-JPL
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