NASA crashes rocket, satellite into moon in search for water

An artist's rendering shows the LCROSS spacecraft, left, separating from its Centaur rocket.
NASA crashed a rocket and a satellite into the moon’s surface on Friday morning, a $79 million mission that could determine if there is water on the moon.

NASA televised live images of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, as it crashed into a crater near the moon’s south pole. NASA officials said it appeared to be a “successful impact.” Minutes before its impact, the satellite guided a rocket into the Cabeus crater in an effort to kick up enough dust to help the LCROSS find whether there is any water in the moon’s soil. The Centaur upper-stage rocket impacted the moon shortly after 7:30 a.m. ET, and the satellite followed it four minutes later. Watch as NASA reacts to “successful” crash The LCROSS carried spectrometers, near-infrared cameras, a visible camera and a visible radiometer to help NASA scientists analyze the plume of dust — more than 250 metric tons’ worth — for water vapor. The orbiting Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter watched and photographed the impacts. Meanwhile, hundreds of telescopes on Earth focused on the moon, hoping to catch a glimpse of two plumes.

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The Cabeus crater lies in permanent shadow, making observations inside the crater difficult. NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver, who watched the event at a public event at the Newseum in Washington, said there was a lot of interest in the NASA mission. “We had families … literally coming in off the street” to watch, she said on NASA TV. iReport: Did you watch NASA had encouraged amateur astronomers to join the watch parties. “We expect the debris plumes to be visible through midsized backyard telescopes — 10 inches and larger,” said Brian Day at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. Day is an amateur astronomer who is leading education and public outreach for the LCROSS mission. Ames Research Center — which led the mission — hosted an all-night event, featuring music and food before broadcasting NASA’s live transmission of the lunar impact. Other science observatories and amateur astronomy clubs across the country hosted similar events. Watch CNN’s Jeanne Moos ask if lunacy is behind the moon “bombing” “The initial explosions will probably be hidden behind crater walls, but the plumes will rise high enough above the crater’s rim to be seen from Earth,” Day said.

Data from previous space missions have revealed trace amounts of water in lunar soil. The LCROSS mission seeks a definitive answer to the question of how much water is present. NASA has said it believes water on the moon could be a valuable resource in the agency’s quest to explore the solar system. LCROSS launched with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 18.