NASA Probes Set to Smash into Moon
NASA will smash two tiny probes into the Moon on Monday after they spent months gathering data from orbit miles above the lunar surface, the U.S. space agency said Thursday.
"We're not expecting a big smash, a big explosion," said project manager David Lehman of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "Their fuel tank will be empty and they are the size of a washing machine."
The probes dubbed Ebb and Flow are set to end their controlled descent on a mountain near the Moon's north pole at about 22:28 GMT.
They will hit the surface at a whopping 3,760 miles per hour (1.7 kilometers per second).
Unfortunately, NASA will not be able to gather pictures of the impact because the region will be in shadow at the time of impact.
The probes are being destroyed after running too low on fuel and sinking too low in orbit to conduct any more missions.
The probes managed to generate the highest resolution gravity map ever gathered from a celestial body. That will help provide a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed and evolved, NASA said.
"I couldn't have imagined even in my dreams that the mission would be so successful," said principal investigator Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"It is going to be difficult to say goodbye."
The probes have been flying in formation around the moon since January 1 starting with an average altitude of 34 miles (55 kilometers) above the surface, and then sinking to around 14 miles (23 kilometers) for a closer look.
At some points they were flying just a few miles above the moon's tallest mountains.
"Our lunar twins may be in the twilight of their operational lives, but one thing is for sure. They are going down swinging," Lehman added.
"Even during the last half of their last orbit, we are going to do an engineering experiment that could help future missions operate more efficiently."
Ebb and Flow will fire their main engines until the tanks are empty, which will allow NASA to determine precisely how much fuel is left. That will help them improve predictions of fuel needs for future missions.