(Launch as seen from Cape May Point, N.J. Sept. 6, 2013)
On Sept. 6, 2013 an ambitious probe was launched from Wallops Island, VA to study... drumroll please... lunar dust!? Ok, the mission itself wasn't so glamorous, actually pretty boring, but at least it will go out with a bang. A rather large bang, as it collides with the moon's surface traveling at nearly a mile-per-second.
This is where you come in. Somewhat surprisingly, considering they're literally rocket scientists, the folks at NASA don't really know when the probe will impact the Moon, so they're enlisting your help and turning the thing into a guessing game like so many jellybeans in a jar. Variations in the Moon's topography and gravity field are making it all but impossible to determine exactly when, or where the probe will come crashing down. Final maneuvers will ensure the probe hit's Pink Floyd's favorite side of the moon sometime on, or possibly before, April 21 when it runs out of fuel.
Guess correctly, and you'll score a personalized certificate, as well as the right tell all of your friends you're smarter than the scientists at NASA. Submissions are due by 3pm Friday, April 11, so hurry over to NASA.gov to enter!
(LADEE Probe photographed from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter)
Not all fun and games, the LADEE Probe mission included several firsts for NASA:
The first deep-space craft to be designed and built at NASA's Ames Research Center.
The first deep-space mission to launch from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va.
The first payload to launch on a US Air Force Minotaur V rocket.
And... laser beams!
The LADEE probe is equipped with an ultra-sweet sounding 'Lunar Lasercom Space Terminal', capable of communicating with mission control six times faster than traditional radio methods. The Optical Laser Communications system involves sending information to a ground terminal using infrared lasers. Think of it working like a fiber optic cable, only without the fiber and/or cable, as those are rather difficult to tether to moon-orbiting spacecraft.