NASA Satellite LADEE Crashes Into The Moon Friday As Planned
LADEE's mission officially ended after midnight Friday when the lunar orbiter crashed into the dark side of the moon, NASA said in an announcement/obituary. The spacecraft's self-destruction was planned from the beginning of the six-month journey to learn about the moon's atmosphere.
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"It's bittersweet knowing we have received the final transmission from the LADEE spacecraft after spending years building it in-house at Ames, and then being in constant contact as it circled the moon for the last several months," said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager, in the statement. Indeed, Twitter was full of LADEE laments Friday.
— Brian Wolven (@brianwolven) April 18, 2014
The @NASALADEE spacecraft, which we watched from @SkyscrapersInc on 9/6/13 (https://t.co/Rc7EAAfZZi), has become one with the Moon. — Jim Hendrickson (@SkyscraperJim) April 18, 2014
Goodbye @NASALADEE! What an amazing journey you have taken us on! Of course it's not yet finished, there is plenty of science to be done! — IntrplnetSarah (@IntrplnetSarah) April 18, 2014
One of the main goals of LADEE's mission was to better understand a strange phenomenon that Apollo astronauts witnessed: a glow on the horizon just before sunrise. NASA's theory is that they witnessed lunar dust charged by the sun's radiation. To test this theory and to gain a better understanding of the moon's trace atmosphere, NASA spent $280 million to outfit the LADEE spacecraft with scientific instruments. In September, they launched it from Virginia. A month later it was in lunar orbit.
LADEE, traveling about 60 miles per minute, took lots of pictures and measurements. It also, in one of its first operations, sent a pulsed laser beam back to Earth to try out new, faster communications technology that could improve data transmission from deep space. But its days were always numbered.
Earlier this month, NASA started taking bets on when the spacecraft would impact. It was losing fuel and altitude, but the moon's atmosphere and surface are uneven, which led to some variability in when LADEE would actually crash. Sometime between 12:30 a.m. and 1:22 a.m. EST, it slammed into the moon at 3,600 mph, "about three times the speed of a high-powered rifle bullet," said Rick Elphic, LADEE project scientist at Ames. "There's nothing gentle about impact at these speeds — it's just a question of whether LADEE made a localized craterlet on a hillside or scattered debris across a flat area. It will be interesting to see what kind of feature LADEE has created."
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