NASA’s mission to bomb the Moon

NASA will tomorrow launch a spectacular mission to bomb the Moon. Their LCROSS mission will blast off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying a missile that will blast a hole in the lunar surface at twice the speed of a bullet.

Artist's impression of LCROSS missile being fired at the MoonThe missile, a Centaur rocket, will be steered by a shepherding spacecraft that will guide it towards its target – a crater close to the Moon’s south pole.

Scientists expect the blast to be so powerful that a huge plume of debris will be ejected.

The attack on the Moon is not a declaration of war or act of wanton vandalism. Space scientists want to see if any water ice or vapour is revealed in the cloud of debris.

Though the Moon mostly a dry airless desert, they believe ice could be trapped in crater shadows near the south pole which never receive any sunlight. If so it could provide vital supplies for a manned moonbase.

Last year, British scientists identified regions where water might be found on the Moon and estimated that there could be enough to fill one of Europe’s largest reservoirs.

The spacecraft will not head straight for the Moon. First it will orbit the Earth a number of times while its precise target is identified. Finally, it will send the missile into the Moon at twice the speed of a bullet on October 8.

The shepherding spacecraft will follow close behind, taking pictures and analysing the ejected debris as it looks for evidence of water. It has just four minutes to do this before it crashes into the Moon itself, producing a spectacular explosion that should be visible in amateur astronomers’ telescopes.

It is a busy time for Moon crashes. Last week Japan’s Kaguya probe collided with the Moon at the end of its own mission.

The LCROSS mission – it stands for Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite – will launch on an Atlas V rocket together with another spacecraft, called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The orbiter will circle the Moon for at least a year searching for potential landing sites for astronauts when they return there in the next decade. It will also look for suitable materials that might support a colony.

The dual mission was due to blast off today but was delayed to make way for the shuttle Endeavour. However, another hydrogen leak means that the shuttle launch has now been delayed until next month.

Picture: An artist’s impression of LCROSS missile being fired at the Moon. (NASA).

• Discover space for yourself and do fun science with a telescope. Here is Skymania’s advice on how to choose a telescope. We also have a guide to the different types of telescope available.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

6 thoughts on “NASA’s mission to bomb the Moon

  • 09/27/2009 at 11:16 am
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    Has NASA fully researched possible consequences? Has NASA considered how the Moon effects tides and water on this planet and how any effect this missile has on the Moon may effect the balance of water here on Earth? Has NASA considered back up plans in case anything happens in order to stabilize the balance of water on this planet? Do we really need something else putting things any more out of balance than they already are?

  • 09/27/2009 at 9:53 pm
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    @Laura.This impact of a rocket stage into the Moon will throw up some debris but have no effect on it or on the Earth. It will be like a fleabite but provide useful scientific data about our natural satellite.

  • 10/05/2009 at 9:07 am
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    NASA should be taken to court immediately…

    If they cause damage to the moon they should be closed down.

    Space is protected from weapons by international law.

    This is a brazen move and indicates the mind set of NASA today.

    Wake up world.

  • 10/08/2009 at 10:28 pm
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    I think that they should not do that because it might throw off the moon and the earth could become colder or hotter.

  • 10/09/2009 at 3:20 am
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    This is crazy and truly unethical and should not be allowed to happen. It’s bad enough we bomb each other, let’s leave the rest of the world(s) out of it. Water was already discovered by India’s mission several years ago. And remember folks that NASA (and most major news media outlets) are linked to the NSA, CIA, DoD and Army/Air Force/ Navy Intelligence. Anything they try to explain or try to debunk (aka: disinformation) to the public you can be assured it is all BS.

  • 01/13/2010 at 10:42 pm
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    Ahem…if you're just gessing at the possible outcomes of doing anything with the moon you should say so..because even people with a halfway decent education (like myself) can tell nobody here has any clue of nothing.
    I will not point out what I'm speaking of more explicitly because I'm lazy but maybe you will catch up on before posting BS next time or at least state that you're just guessing…
    Or, more likely, you'll just ignore this awfully long rant, have a good day.

    P.S. If I'm not getting your irony read up on Poe's Law…

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