NASA just crashed two probes into the moon. Don’t worry though, they totally meant to do it. The two probes were slammed into the lunar surface at over 5000 miles per hour in order to throw up a plume of debris that could be analyzed for signs of water ice. Those non-science types watching online were hoping for a visible plume of dust from the impacts. They were disappointed.
The expected 6-mile plume of debris didn’t materialize, but according to NASA scientists it went just fine on their end. LCROSS principal investigator Tony Colaprete said, “I saw variations in the spectra. I'm thrilled—that's a very good sign. The spectra is where the science is."
The Centaur probe hit the surface first, while being monitored by the LCROSS probe. The LCROSS then took the plunge itself. The area of impact was selected because the craters near the South Pole are never completely illuminated by the sun, meaning ice could be present. Colaprete said in the press conference, “If there's water there, or anything else interesting, we'll find it."
For those that don’t know, coding your favorite games isn’t the only thing that John Carmack does well, turns out he’s not half bad at rocket science. He’s proved this most recently at the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, which is being held by the X Prize Foundation and sponsored by NASA. The goal of the challenge is to help in the development of a fleet of lunar ferries that could one day carry people and payloads between lunar orbit and the moon’s surface.
The challenge consists of several levels and Carmack’s team, Armadillo Aerospace, has passed the first one. Level one requires that a rocket take off from a launch area, climb to an altitude of 150 feet, hover for 90 seconds and then land safely at a landing pad 150 feet away. They were then required to repeat the flight in reverse within two and a half hours. Their ability to complete this goal before any other team has won them a cool $350,000.
Level two is a bit more difficult. It requires that team double the amount of time hovered, and then land on a simulated lunar surface that’s littered with craters and boulders. Armadillo Aerospace attempted the course, but was unable to complete the task. That means that there’s still $1.65 million up for grabs.
Mr. Carmack, we’re going to have to insist that you keep doing great things, but don’t forget about us!