Imagine you’re on this spacecraft coming to Earth — this is the scene you’d see from a vantage point of 520,294 kilometers from Earth and 880,850 kilometers from the Moon. You’d know there’s a planet there, and its moon would be tantalizingly far away… but it would be exciting to see. If I were the alien piloting the ship, I’d be excited to see another world and, given the instruments on my ship showing the components of that planet’s atmosphere, I’d know there was life there.
Well, this isn’t a view from an alien ship — it’s the view that the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission, which is on a journey to study the Moon and, on October 9, crash a Centaur rocket stage into the south polar region. The impact should kick up a plume of dust and other materials — and hopefully some of that stuff will be hydrogen or even water vapor. If there is water there, then we’ll know that there’s a supply of ice at the lunar south pole. How much ice is yet to be determined — but if there’s a lot, it could be a useful supply for future moon explorers.
So far, the LCROSS mission is on schedule for its delivery date, despite a sensor anomaly that caused one of the spacecraft’s thruster to fire excessively. That action consumed quite a lot of fuel, but the team estimates that the spacecraft still has enough to complete its full mission. They’re still assessing the situation and trying to figure out the complete chain of events that led to the over-firing of the thruster. For a nice background on LCROSS from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, head to their Astronomy Behind the Headlines web page for a podcast interview I did with LCROSS team member Brian Day. This is going to be an exciting mission come early October, so stay tuned!