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NASA Crafts Smash into Moon in Search for Water


NASA Crafts Smash into Moon in Search for Water

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The U.S. space agency has smashed a pair of heavy space craft into the moon's surface in the hopes of finding evidence of frozen water or other potential resources. It may take weeks of analyzing data before NASA scientists announce their findings.

Scores of telescopes and other monitoring equipment turned toward the moon early Friday to watch two NASA craft crash into the south pole of the Moon.

Flight director Paul Tompkins led the mission team as the first payload hit the surface.

"All stations, flight," said Paul Tompkins. "Mark Centaur impact."

Scientists with the Lunar Crater Observing and Sensing Satellite mission, or LCROSS, said the payloads hit their target - the dark and frigid side of a crater near the south pole. The mission however did not live up to expectations that the payloads would create a cloud of debris visible to telescopes on Earth.

NASA officials had encouraged both academic and amateur space observers to view what they thought would be an exciting sight.

The mission's lead investigator Tony Colaprete said the debris plume was not seen in the first set of images, but it should have been detected with other scientific measurements.

"We saw a crater, we saw a flash [afterward]," said Tony Colaprete. "So something had to happen in between."

The NASA team used a series of photographic cameras and infrared sensors to document the moment of impact and the resulting debris cloud. Additional data was collected at observatories around the United States, as well as satellites including the Hubble Space Telescope. The hope is the spectrum data will produce evidence of water, hydrocarbons or other organic material in the debris cloud.

But lead investigator Colaprete said it may take weeks to analyze the information and arrive at a conclusion.

"Life is full of surprises," he said. "We want to be careful not to make a false negative or a false positive claim. I am excited we saw variations in the spectra because that means we saw something, that was not just blackness. The information is there we just need to get to it."

One thing the team did confirm was the presence of sodium. Colaprete said the impact of the payloads apparently caused a reaction with sodium which was easily spotted from Earth.

Regardless of the final scientific conclusions, NASA researchers said they were pleased with the LCROSS mission. NASA's chief lunar scientist Mike Wargo said officials are hoping to change the image of the moon as a desolate, unchanging place.

"We've really been thinking about the moon in a different way," said Mike Wargo. "Who thought just a month ago we would be talking about the water cycle or the hydration cycle of the moon?"

The LCROSS mission launched in June along with a separate mission to study the moon's surface. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is surveying possible landing areas and other conditions for the possible return of astronauts to the moon.