by Richard A. Kerr
Hang on, NASA's about to blast for lunar gold. Tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. EDT, an Atlas rocket's 2-ton spent upper stage will slam into the frigid, eternally dark floor of Cabeus crater near the moon's south pole. The target? Water ice trapped for eons beneath the surface that could slake the thirst of lunar astronauts and even fuel a trek to Mars--assuming the water's really there, of course.
Theory allows for water ice in such lunar cold spots, and remote sensing has hinted at it, but no one knows what tomorrow's impact will throw into the lunar sky. All the world will be watching to find out. The LCROSS spacecraft will be trailing 4 minutes behind the impactor, sending its close-up view back to Earth to be streamed live by NASA. Astronomers on the ground will have their biggest scopes trained on the impact. And then the trailing LCROSS craft will fly through the ejecta cloud and augur in. If the sensors arrayed for the occasion shout "Water!," we'll hear about it at a 10:00 a.m. EDT NASA press conference. If not, it'll be a busy holiday weekend for LCROSS scientists.
Here is a video overview of the mission from NASA:
After you finish "waltzing" through that video, also be sure to check out this higher resolution animation of the spacecraft, the last half of which contains a video of the launch.
Still want more? I'll be answering reader questions about the LCROSS mission and lunar exploration on ScienceNOW's Facebook page. You can post your questions there now, or join me for a live discussion tomorrow from 4-5 p.m. EDT.