Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Tomorrow, an Atlas V rocket will launch a payload comprised of NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). Together, the two independent projects represent NASA's first steps in its eventual plans to return humans to the Moon.
The LRO will be released from the launcher 46 minutes after liftoff, embarking on a mission to survey the Moon's terrain, map its natural resources and measure the radiation threats in preparation for the next human expeditions. The spacecraft should reach the Moon in four days, then use its onboard engines to enter lunar orbit.
The LCROSS will confirm the presence or absence of water ice in a permanently shadowed crater at the Moon’s South Pole. The identification of water is very important to the future of human activities on the Moon. Two heavy impactors will test the theory that ancient ice lies buried there. The impact will eject material from the crater’s surface to create a plume that specialized instruments will be able to analyze for the presence of water (ice and vapor), hydrocarbons and hydrated materials.
The Atlas V is set to launch tomorrow, June 18, at 5:12 p.m. EDT. Two additional launch opportunities are available at 5:22 p.m. and 5:32 p.m.