As part of NASA’s ongoing Lunar studies, and perhaps to assist in the eventual creation of a lunar outpost, NASA’s latest Lunar satellites – known as Ebb and Flow – ended their mission with a crash and a bang on Dec. 16th, at precisely 5:28 p.m. EST, which was confirmed by the sudden loss of radio contact.
After launching back in September with the intention of mapping the gravitational field of the Moon, the satellites ended their mission by intentionally crashing down rather than waiting for the inevitable orbital decay. The purpose of this mission, which cost taxpayers a hefty $500 million, was to gain insight into the moon’s internal structure.
In what is known as a “targeted impact”, the flight controllers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory guided the satellites into the side of a mountain-like section of a partially buried crater rim near the moon’s north pole. After conducting their mission close to the Lunar surface, it was known that the satellites orbits would decay and they would eventually crash on their own.
With their fuel nearly exhausted and the mission’s scientific observations complete, mission managers opted to burn the last of their propellant and crash the satellites, rather than risk that they might one day fall to the surface at or near a so-called “lunar heritage site,” including six where manned Apollo missions landed and more than a dozen where unmanned U.S. and Russian probes touched down.
In addition to their compliment of scientific instrumentation, each spacecraft also carried cameras used by middle school students to photograph the lunar surface. This was all part of a project sponsored by Sally Ride Science, a science education company founded by the late shuttle astronaut.
The spacecraft hit the moon in darkness and even though they were moving at some 6116 km/h (3,800 mph), mission managers did not expect any observers on Earth to see a flash or any other telltale signs of the impact. But NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will be on the lookout for any signs of fresh craters during subsequent passes over the region.