Science/Tech

Why NASA Slammed A Rocket Body Into The Moon 10 Years Ago

Some ten years ago, the U.S. space agency NASA decided to slam a rocket body into the surface of the Moon for science, which forever changed our perception of what the floating satellite really is. But how can slamming a hunk of space junk onto the Moon do that? What exactly changed? And why exactly did NASA decide to do it in the first place?

Space Slam

The story starts back on June 18, 2009, when the space agency's Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) missions launched together, both on top of a rocket named the United Launch Alliance Atlas V.

Once out of our atmosphere and into space, the LRO sped into the lunar orbit, where it still works and takes data up until today. However, the LCROSS had a different plan, remaining attached to the Atlas V’s Centaur upper stage. This took it onto a long and elliptical path around our planet before heading straight into a collision course with the surface of the Moon, which back then, remained a bigger mystery than it is now.

The plan? Permanently slam the rocket body into a crater that has been in shadow permanently, and find out if there’s any water ice beneath its depths.

In what’s essentially a ‘suicide’ mission, the rocket barreled hard into the Moon’s Cabeus crater (located near the lunar south pole) come October 9, 2009, sending large amounts of lunar debris up into the air. From there, the LCROSS loomed over the surrounding wreckage and studied the composition, relaying its findings back to the team on Earth, where it was analyzed and studied. A mere six minutes after doing this, the LCROSS spacecraft then slammed into the crater as well.

And the results? When measured by mass, the floor of the Cabeus crater is around 5.6 percent water ice, meaning that it’s about twice as wet as the soil in the Sahara desert, which is a finding that was very surprising at that time.

"When the LCROSS results came out, the entire concept of the moon and its water inventory changed dramatically ,” LCROSS Principal Investigator Tony Colaprete, of NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, said.

moon China plans to send the next mission to the far side of the moon, called Chang'e-6, in the mid-2020s. Pixabay

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