NASA moon mission to pave way for humans’ return

May 22nd, 2009 - 7:43 am ICT by IANS  

Hubble Space Telescope Washington, May 22 (DPA) US space agency NASA has said it is ready to send two missions to the moon in a launch next month that will set the course for the resumption of human lunar exploration.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) are to launch aboard a single rocket June 17.

Together they will send data back to NASA to help scientists find the best location for a spacecraft landing to bring humans to the moon.

The moon would eventually serve as a jumping off platform for exploring Mars, according to NASA’s long-term objectives as set by former president George W. Bush.

The LRO will orbit the moon, taking the most detailed images yet of the lunar surface, creating three-dimensional maps that are accurate to within one metre, showing details as small as boulder. It will measure radiation on the surface to scout for possible dangers to astronauts.

“We have much better maps of Mars than we have of our own moon’s polar regions,” said Craig Tooley, project manager for the LRO mission.

The lunar poles are the likely landing targets for a potential manned spacecraft.

The LCROSS will focus on determining whether water could be hidden in the shadowy craters of the moon near its poles.

An earlier lunar satellite found high levels of hydrogen in the atmosphere near the poles, a hint that water could be present.

NASA scientists said that it is possible for frozen water to have remained in the moon’s craters for billions of years, because the bottoms of the craters are never reached by sunlight, which would cause ice to evaporate and vanish in the thin lunar atmosphere.

The LCROSS is to separate into two parts that will crash into a dark crater. The first part will send up a cloud of dust to be measured by a second, trailing device that will also crash in the moon.

Images of the impact will also be captured by the orbiting LRO, as well as the Hubble Space Telescope and other telescopes on Earth.

The composition of the material kicked up by the impact will help scientists deduce whether water is present.

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