May 22, 2009

NASA On Schedule For Launch Of Two Lunar Satellites

NASA on Thursday announced plans for the launch of two satellites in June that will prepare the way for the space agency's return to the Moon.

NASA detailed the two missions of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS).

Slated to launch June 17 aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the two satellites will pave the way for a new era of lunar exploration.

"We had the original target of providing information back for being able to safely return to the Moon for exploration," said Mike Wargo, NASA's chief lunar scientist.

"These two missions will provide exciting new information about the moon, our nearest neighbor," said Doug Cooke, associate administrator of NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate in Washington.

"Imaging will show dramatic landscapes and areas of interest down to one-meter resolution. The data also will provide information about potential new uses of the moon. These teams have done a tremendous job designing and building these two spacecraft."

NASA will use LRO to create high resolution, three-dimensional maps of the Moon's surface as well as survey it in the far ultraviolet spectrum in order to gauge how the lunar radiation environment may affect humans.

The space agency said LRO will also provide new research into the Moon's craters and allow scientists to seek out clues to the location of water ice.

"One of the (resources) we are looking for is the potential of water ice at the lunar polar regions in these really mysterious permanently shadowed regions," said Wargo.

"LRO is an amazingly sophisticated spacecraft," said Craig Tooley, LRO project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

"Its suite of instruments will work in concert to send us data in areas where we've been hungry for information for years."

Project manager Dan Andrews told AFP that discovering ice on the lunar surface would be an important find for future manned missions to the Moon.

NASA said the LCROSS Centaur would be directed to an impact in a crater at one of the moon's poles. The impact is expected to make a plume of debris that will rise more than six miles, during which a network of ground-based telescopes, LRO and the Hubble Space Telescope will have an opportunity to search for water ice by examining the plume in direct sunlight.

"We look forward to engaging a wide cross section of the public in LCROSS' spectacular arrival at the moon and search for water ice," said Andrews, of NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif.

"It's possible we'll learn the answer to what is increasingly one of planetary science's most intriguing questions."


Image Caption: Artist's concept of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA


On the Net: