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NASA to moon: Get ready, here we come

By Seth Borenstein
Sat Oct 10 03:55:51 EST 2009
Fri Oct 9 16:55:51 UTC 2009

WASHINGTON, Oct 9 AP - Two NASA spacecraft are barrelling toward the moon at twice the speed of a bullet, about to crash into a lunar crater in a search for ice.

If all goes well, the impact will be beamed back live to Earth.

The first and much bigger crash is set for 7:31am EDT on Friday (2231 AEDT) . That's when an empty rocket that weighs 2.2 tons should hit the crater Cabeus and create a minicrater about half the size of an Olympic pool. It should kick up a plume of lunar debris about 10 kilometres high.

The idea is to confirm the theory that water - a key resource if people are going to go back to the moon - is hidden below the barren moonscape.

Trailing behind the rocket is the lunar probe LCROSS, short for Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite and pronounced L-Cross, beaming back to Earth live pictures of the impact and the debris plume using colour cameras. It will scour for ice, fly through the debris cloud and then just four minutes later take the fatal plunge itself, triggering a dust storm one-third the size of the first hit.

Telescopes around the world - including the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope - will aim their cameras at the big event to provide more views of the dust-up.

LCROSS and its bigger rocket stage launched together last June and only separated Thursday night, the last major milestone before the big crash.

The lunar minidemolition derby will be broadcast live on NASA television. Museums and observatories planned early morning events to show the crashes, which can be seen with backyard telescopes in the predawn darkness west of the Mississippi River. But the best place to watch the lunar action will be on the internet, scientists said.

"It's going to be a muted shimmer of light," said Anthony Colaprete, an LCROSS scientist.

The LCROSS probe cost $US79 million ($A87.19 million) and was an add-on to a bigger NASA satellite now circling the moon.


On the Net:

NASA's LCROSS site: http://www.nasa.gov/mission(underscore)pages/LCROSS/main/index.html

Where to observe crash: http://www.nasa.gov/mission(underscore)pages/LCROSS/impact/index.html

How to view with telescope: http://lcross.arc.nasa.gov/observation/amateur.htm