NASA is planning to intentionally smash two spacecraft into the surface of the moon, hoping to reveal some water ice under the surface of the moon's south pole. Hey, where'd they get this idea? Hmm, it seems pretty familiar…
Regardless of whether or not NASA is now taking cues from my favorite sketch comedy show, they're hoping that the lunar explosions will reveal frozen water that could possibly be tapped as a resource for future moon missions or bases as well as revealing much about the history of our solar system. The mission is planned for February 2009, and here's how it'll go down:
LCROSS will piggyback on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission for an Oct. 28 launch atop an Atlas 5 rocket equipped with a Centaur upper stage. While the launch will ferry LRO to the moon in about four days, LCROSS is in for a three-month journey to reach its proper moon-smashing position. Once within range, the Centaur upper stage doubles as the main 4,400 pound (2,000 kg) impactor spacecraft for LCROSS.
The smaller Shepherding Spacecraft will guide Centaur towards its target crater, before dropping back to watch—and later fly through—the plume of moon dust and debris kicked up by Centaur's impact. The shepherding vehicle is packed with a light photometer, a visible light camera and four infrared cameras to study the Centaur's lunar plume before it turns itself into a second impactor and strikes a different crater about four minutes later.