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NASA's LADEE Ready To Crash Probe Into Moon

Update Date: Apr 05, 2014 01:37 PM EDT

NASA's Moon-orbiting Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer(LADEE) is ready to make a high-speed crash into the lunar surface. 

The spacecraft has been studying the exosphere - moon's thin atmosphere - and the lunar dust environment since it began orbiting it in October last year.

"If you hit anything at 1,600 meters (5,250 feet) per second, that's not a landing you walk away from, so it's by no means gentle," Rick Elphic, LADEE project scientist, told reporters during a news conference, according to Huffington Post. "This is a very, very high-speed impact, and even though there's a possibility of tumbling across the surface, there's nothing gentle about it. You [LADEE] will be destroyed."

NASA's another probe circling the moon is Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter which could look for LADEE's crash site after impact, officials said. 

"The moon's gravity field is so lumpy, and the terrain is so highly variable, with crater ridges and valleys, that frequent maneuvers are required, or the LADEE spacecraft will impact the moon's surface," said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager, according to Huffington Post. "Even if we perform all maneuvers perfectly, there's still a chance LADEE could impact the moon sometime before April 21, which is when we expect LADEE's orbit to naturally decay after using all the fuel onboard."

One of the LADEE's missions was to look for a plausible explanation of moon-dust mystery which dates back to Apollo program. Apollo astronauts saw a glow on the horizon of the moon even before sunrise.

"One of the things we're going to try to do is replicate that observation by [astronaut] Gene Cernan on [Apollo] 17 long ago by pointing the star tracker out in exactly the same sort of arrangement, waiting for the sun to come up and taking a look at what the star trackers reveal to us as we approach orbital sunrise," Elphic added.

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