- Jun 12, 2007
The agency is set to launch spacecraft that will update topographical maps of the surface and will probe deep into a crater to search for water.
Nearly four decades after astronaut Neil Armstrong planted his boot on the surface of the moon, the U.S. is about to take the first small step toward colonizing Earth's tag-along satellite.
On Wednesday, NASA is scheduled to launch a robotic mission aimed at finding the best site for Earth's first off-world colony, the centuries-old dream of science fiction writers and utopians.
This time, we're not just going for a walkabout or to hit golf balls and cruise around in a $10-million moon buggy, as the Apollo astronauts did. Ultimately, we hope to pack up the kids and the dog and move in.
"We're going to provide NASA with what is needed to get human beings back to the moon and to stay there for an extended duration," said Craig Tooley, project manager for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, one part of the two-pronged mission.
The orbiter itself is expected to produce the most detailed topographic maps of the moon ever made, as well as first-ever glimpses inside perpetually shadowed craters at the north and south poles. Inside those craters, scientists hope to find caches of frozen water that have been hidden away for billions of years.
The mission won't stop there. Using a second spacecraft -- the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite -- NASA is planning to punch a hole in one to see what comes out.
Both of the spacecraft will be launched together with a two-stage rocket, and nearly four months from now, the agency will use the spent second stage of the rocket as a battering ram to create a crater 66 feet wide by 13 feet deep and send a 6-mile-high plume wafting into space that should provide a show for hobbyists on Earth with decent-sized telescopes.
"This should be spectacular," said Tony Colaprete, the satellite's project scientist. "It should be a very visible impact from Earth."
The biggest uncertainty hanging over the $579-million mission as it prepares for launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida is the question of whether the lunar outpost will ever be built.