Bombing the Moon

cabeusmapSmallFriday morning was a bit of a strange morning for the United States.

  • At a little past 5am Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize
  • At a little past 7am NASA “bombed” the moon.

We here at DC Progressive have already let you know about the former, but if this is your only source of news, I’m sorry, in regards to the latter. What exactly did we do? Why did we do it? What policy implications does this have?

NASA launched the LCROSS (Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite) program to search for water on the moon. Heather Gross over at DCist does a good job of explaining exactly what the mission involved.

1. LCROSS was a mission to discover hydrogen (i.e. water) on the Moon.

2. The night before impact, LCROSS separated into two pieces: the upper stage of a depleted Centaur rocket and the Shepherding Spacecraft. The continued on the same path, but separated quite a few miles before impact.

3. The Centaur rocket hit the Moon first, inside the crater Cabeus near the south pole, kicking up a dust plume. The Shepherding Spacecraft followed about four minutes later, collecting volumes of data regarding the contents of the dust.

4. The rocket was about the size of a school bus and had no fuel. That’s right, no explosives were used upon impact on the Moon.

5. The mass of the Moon compared to the mass of the tiny spacecraft is ENORMOUS. It couldn’t knock the Moon off its axis and it will in no way affect the tides.

6. You know how we know that aside from basic math? This isn’t the first time we’ve done this. Humans have crash-landed spacecraft into the Moon dozens of times; the first time was by the Russians in 1959. (Yup, the Russians actually beat us to the Moon, but we sent humans there first.)

7. LCROSS was a “low-cost, high-risk” mission, what NASA calls a “Class D.” Much of the spacecraft was made by recycling parts from satellites. These types of missions are becoming more and more popular because they can collect quite a bit of data for very little cash.

8. Why this mission? The discovery of high quantities of water will guide the decision to send humans back to the Moon for long-term missions. Not to mention, information about the Moon’s make-up helps planetary scientists learn more about how our solar system was formed.

This has been a big couple weeks for the scientific community and it’s relation with the nation. There are actually 6 Nobel Prizes awarded each year. The founders of fiber optics, chromosomal end protection, and ribosomal structure all received prizes this week. In addition, the President’s National Medals of Science were awarded Wednesday to some of our nation’s greatest minds. Earlier, the President visited the NIH and gave a great speech about the importance of biomedical research. In addition, the release of the climate change bill in the senate and the daily discoveries released to the world are victories for the scientific community.

But no one is talking about all of these important visionaries or their contributions to society. Instead jokes are made about bombing the moon. As pointed out, this was not our first mission to crash into the moon and it will lead to numerous advances in our understanding of space. The tragedy comes when NASA and the scientific community have been so far removed from our society that an event as important as this becomes misrepresented.

NASA gave us much of our modern technology we use today. The impact of potential energy innovations on our consumption are much needed. Obama has increased the NASA budget $2.4 billion since taking office and is working quietly to restore NASA’s prominence. We as a society must follow suit and become fascinated with science and space once again.

There is a great deal of discussion on how Obama can live up to his Nobel Prize. It is time for the United States to once again contribute to the world through: a new technology, a new drug, a new cure, or a new reason to look at the moon. The President has already begun realigning these goals, it is time for our nation to respond.

Posted by Emma Sandoe

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