NASA probe hits moon's south pole

October 9, 2009 7:03:52 PM PDT
The first half of NASA's latest mission to the moon is a success. The space agency managed to crash a probe into the moon - in a search for water. But, it's going to take weeks of studying the data to find out what is really there.

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There were some disappointed people because there were no spectacular crash-plume-flying water type images of craft crashing into the moon. But as one NASA scientist said it doesn't necessarily have to look like a Hollywood movie when you are collecting data, what matters most is that all the cameras and instruments worked, the data was collected and now the water question will soon be answered.

Impact was achieved on the moon at 4:31 a.m. Friday October 9th, 2009; this is a date that NASA defines as an historic moment, marking a first-ever successful spacecraft crash into the lunar south pole, in the search for water.

"Today we kicked up some moon dust and all indications are an interesting set of results," said NASA Ames Director Dr. Pete Worden.

The $79 million LCROSS mission, which stands for Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite was aiming for a deep, dark crater called Cabeus. It delivered two impacts -- first a spent booster rocket, then the LCROSS craft itself.

"There was an impact. We saw the impact. We saw the crater, and we got good measurements - spectroscopic measurements," said LCROSS project scientist Tony Colaprete.

LCROSS project scientist Tony Colaprete acknowledges that NASA and the public, like the hundreds who were invited to gather at Mountain View's NASA Ames for a viewing -- were hoping to see a gigantic plume of lunar debris, but that wasn't captured on any spacecraft cameras or telescopes on earth. But NASA says not all data is visible to the naked eye and they have plenty to work with thanks to a cooperative observation campaign using telescopes around the world and satellites in space.

"We have images, we have video. We have graphs with squiggly lines, that scientist love," said LCROSS Observation Campaign Coordinator Jennifer Heldmann.

NASA scientists say they're particularly excited about a flash that popped up on the spectrometer equipment, which measures light and colors. But they need more time to analyze the chemical composition to find out whether it indicates the prized components of hydrogen and oxygen.

"We're you looking for anything else other than water?" asked ABC7's Teresa Garcia.

"We're looking for just about everything. We're going someplace we've never been before, so we're primarily interested in what's the source of the hydrogen," said NASA Ames' LCROSS scientist Tony Colaprete.

And if water does exist, it opens the door for a more sustainable, future exploration of space.

NASA Ames director of science said there have been some high level government talks of establishing permanent moon bases. If water was found it would make it much more economical for the astronauts to use the hydrogen for fuel and oxygen to breathe. It would allow for more sustainable exploration in space, because astronauts would not have to haul rocket fuel up with them. The LCROSS project plans to release more results in two-weeks, then two-months.

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