A spacecraft bites the lunar dust.
- By Mohi Kumar
- Air & Space magazine, March 2009
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LCROSS is not NASA’s first attempt at cosmic collisions. During the Ranger program of the mid-1960s nine probes hit the moon in an effort to capture the first close-up images of the surface. In 2005, the Deep Impact spacecraft crashed into a comet, blasting material from its nucleus. “LCROSS will be quite different from these,” says Schultz. “It will be slower than Deep Impact, hitting at a higher angle. And unlike the Ranger probes, there will be direct control over where LCROSS hits and how we observe the plume.”
Amateur astronomers were able to observe Deep Impact; they will likely be able to observe the LCROSS collisions as well. “Given clear skies, we expect that you can see the impacts using a relatively modest-sized 10- to 12-inch telescope,” says Heldmann. Optimal viewing locations will be from the western United States, and details of the exact impact time and location will be posted on the mission Web site soon after launch. The impacts will be streamed live on NASA TV. Because many amateur astronomers have cameras and spectrometers attached to their telescopes, NASA is also encouraging viewers to upload images of the impacts onto its Web site.
“We’re trying to recapture the excitement of the Apollo missions,” says John Marmie, deputy project manager. Marmie, who moonlights as an amateur songwriter, wrote and recorded “Water on the Moon” with a colleague in an effort to put to music NASA’s vision for exploration. (The song can be heard on http://lcross.arc.nasa.gov.) “We’re hoping a new generation of scientists and engineers will take up the challenge to inhabit the moon,” he says.
Naturally, amateur astronomers are excited by the chance to see a spacecraft come crashing to an end, and several astronomy clubs through the West are making plans to celebrate the event. “We expect that the impact will fill about one minute of arc, less than the size of Jupiter if you are viewing that planet through the same telescope,” says Richard Baldridge of the Peninsula Astronomical Society in Mountain View, California. “This is a rare chance to see something amazing. Even the not-so-die-hards should stay up for this.” Baldridge and others will be in Los Gatos, taking turns at two observatory telescopes owned by the society and living it up at an Impact Party.
Mohi Kumar is a journalist in Washington, D.C.