The team also looked for bargains, a novel concept in space exploration. Colaprete found several small businesses that already offered the desired instruments or could make them quickly. In one case, a camera he purchased failed in a vibration test, and NASA managers paid a visit to find out what happened.
"It was suggested that we open it up and look at it, find out what's wrong, and I said, 'No, it's under warranty. If you break the seal it's not under warranty.' And they didn't believe me," Colaprete said.
He sent it back, and the manufacturer learned a wrong part had been installed. The company fixed it and sent it back. It passed the test.
"Otherwise, I would have spent I don't know how many tens of thousands of dollars trying to fix this camera," Colaprete said.
After launch in May, the LRO will be sent on its way, leaving the Atlas V's upper-stage Centaur rocket with the smaller satellite. The pair will whip around the moon in an elongated orbit -- partly designed to burn off the Centaur's remaining fuel, so the satellite's water-vapor-seeking instruments aren't fooled by excess hydrogen.
On final approach, the Centaur will separate from the spacecraft, crashing into the chosen crater at 9,000 kilometers per hour.
LCROSS must crash in a dark crescent of a crater, probably one near the Moon's north pole. The crater will have to be deep enough that its walls keep part of its surface in permanent shadow; that way, it will remain cold enough that ancient ice, perhaps delivered by a comet, would never have had a chance to melt.
The Centaur's impact will create a new crater and a huge cloud of ejected dust and dirt.
Four minutes later, LCROSS will fly through the dust, furiously collecting and relaying data back to Earth before it meets its end, which will cause a second debris plume. Data from the dust clouds will help scientists determine whether there's water under the lunar surface.
Earth-based scopes, including the Keck and Infrared telescopes at Mauna Kea, Hawaii, will be watching the moon August 28 to look for water vapor and other matter. The ejecta cloud ought to be large enough to be seen with a 10-inch telescope, however, meaning many an amateur astronomer will be glad to have a full moon for once.
The satellite is being prepared for launch at Kennedy Space Center.
Very interesting article. I am fascinated by this kind of science and hope they find that H2O on the moon but for some reason I doubt they will. We never found any in the 60's and 70's moon missions. I hope you'll do a follow up article for the magazine and let us know the outcome of this experiment.
Neat stuff, I'm hoping for clear skies on the 28th of August so I can watch the action.
Always something special about blowing things up in the name of science. Call Mythbusters over at Discovery and you might be able to get a sponsorship deal as well.
Lancair, in the 60's and 70's moon missions, they landed in the equatorial and midlattitudes of the moon, not the poles. It's the poles of the moon that would have ice, because the moon has negligible tilt on its axis, keeping any spot in a crater in perpetual darkness at the poles. If water could freeze in a polar crater before it sublimated to vapor, it would remain frozen there for a very, very, very, long time. Without exposure to sunlight (which was present for two weeks out of every month at the Apollo sites), ice in space stays frozen perpetually.
Obviously the folks at NASA are thinking about deep ice, maybe 3 or 4 meters under the surface. This ice would have been there a long, long time and was prevented from sublimating away by the accumulation of space dust and debris from asteroid impacts on the moon.
Looks like we are about 2 months away from the impact. My guess will be that they will find some kind of water/ice, but not very much.