Thursday, June 18, 2009

The LUNAR RECONNAISSANCE ORBITER (or LRO) is launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on June 18, 2009.
Scott Andrews

FLY ME TO THE MOON (AGAIN)... At 2:32 PM, Pacific Time today, an Atlas V rocket carrying NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (or LRO for short) was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. After a four-day journey, LRO will enter orbit around the Moon, where it will start a one-year mission that involves finding safe landing sites for astronauts when they (hopefully) return to Earth’s closest neighbor around 2020. Along with finding suitable landing zones for astronauts, LRO will also conduct scientific research that involves looking for water ice (which would be vital if we were ever to live in colonies on the Moon) that may be lurking underneath the lunar surface.

LEFT PIC: Artist's concept of the LUNAR RECONNAISSANCE ORBITER.  RIGHT PIC: The LRO spacecraft undergoing check-up at its Florida processing facility.
LEFT PIC: Artist's concept of LCROSS at the Moon.  RIGHT PIC: LCROSS undergoing tests inside a thermal vacuum chamber.
The LRO and LCROSS spacecraft, before they are both encapsulated inside the Atlas V rocket's nose fairing, on May 15, 2009.
NASA / Jim Grossman, Jack Pfaller & Northrop Grumman

Some of the water ice that LRO searches for during its mission will hopefully be thrown out into space when the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS)—as well as a spent rocket stage (known as a Centaur) that helped loft LRO and LCROSS out of Earth's gravity—collides with the Moon four months from now. Between October 7-11, LCROSS and the Centaur motor will ram into the lunar surface at speeds of up to 5,580 mph (8,980 kph)...creating an explosion that should be visible even to amateur astronomers with small telescopes here on Earth.

Photos showing the installation of a microchip, bearing the names of 1.6 million people (including that of Yours Truly), onto LRO before launch.

Some of you may be wondering why the subject line of this Blog says "Fly Me to the Moon (Again)"... Well, that’s because my name (and 413,000 others) was previously flown on the Japanese Kaguya spacecraft that was launched to the Moon in September of 2007 and ended its mission in a blaze of glory 8 days ago. While my name was imprinted on an aluminum sheet onboard Kaguya, attached to LRO is a microchip bearing the names of more than 1.6 million people who submitted their monikers online between May and July of 2008. Even though LRO will last in the Moon’s orbit for a few more years after its primary mission comes to an end, nice to know that my name flew up to that barren world at least twice. Not the same as having my name on Mars, but I ain’t complaining.

A certificate commemorating my participation in the 'Send Your Name to the Moon' project.

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