A NASA spacecraft will deliberately crash into the Moon early Friday on a mission that could enhance the prospects of establishing a manned lunar base.
Only two weeks after three probes discovered water on the Moon, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) will blast two huge chunks out of its surface to establish whether it exists in a form that could be exploited by astronauts.
In the early hours of Friday, the LCROSS probe will separate from the Centaur upper stage of the rocket that carried it to lunar orbit, and send the spent module crashing into the Cabeus crater at the Moon’s south pole.
When the 2.4-ton Centaur hits at 7:30 a.m. EST, at a speed of 1.6 miles per second, it will throw up a plume of debris 6 miles high.
The LCROSS probe will then fly through the plume and analyze its contents with a battery of sophisticated instruments, before itself crashing into a different spot in the same crater four minutes later, to create a second cloud of dust and rubble.
The impacts, which will be visible from Earth through telescopes with mirrors of at least ten inches, will be studied both from the ground and with lunar orbiters, for traces of water and ice.