Washington: The US blasted the surface of the moon on Friday with two rockets on a mission to look for water below the lunar surface that could be used by astronauts on future space missions, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) said.
The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) satellite crashed into the Cabeus crater floor near the moon’s south pole at around 9,000km per hour, followed four minutes later by a shepherding spacecraft equipped with cameras to record the impact.
The mission comes just two weeks after India hailed the discovery of water on the moon with its Chandrayaan-I satellite mission in partnership with Nasa.
Space exploration: An illustration of Nasa’s LCROSS and its Centaur booster rocket on course to crash into the moon’s surface.
Scientists had previously theorized that, except for the possibility of ice at the bottom of craters, the moon was totally dry.
Finding water on Earth’s natural satellite would be a major breakthrough in space exploration and pave the way toward future lunar bases for drinking water or fuel, or even man living on another planet.
Grainy thermal images carried on the US space agency’s television station showed colder blue sites and warmer red sites on the moon’s surface, but there was no apparent light flash as the rockets made impact.
Cameras mounted on the 891kg shepherding spacecraft were to beam live footage of the initial impact as the craft flew through the debris plume, collecting and relaying key data back to Earth before it too ploughs into the moon.
However, a camera on the spacecraft did not capture an image of the impact as hoped, but scientists said they were confident that the explosive hit took place as planned.
“We didn’t see a big splashy plume like we wanted to see,” said Michael Bicay, director of science at the Nasa’s Ames Research Center.
“We don’t anticipate anything about presence or absence of water immediately. It’s going to take us some time,” cautioned Anthony Colaprete, project scientist and principal investigator for the $79 million LCROSS mission, which is also the first preparatory mission of the Constellation programme that aims to send Americans back to the moon by 2020.
Colaprete projected it would take several days for analysts to evaluate the data.
The LCROSS and was launched in June aboard the Atlas V with another probe—the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is tasked with producing a detailed map of the moon.
Nasa scientists will be looking at what spews out after 350 tonnes of debris is ejected from the cold, dark Cabeus crater, staking its hopes on water in the form of ice. The crater is 100km across and between 2.5-4km deep.
(‘Reuters’ contributed to this story.)