NASA has selected four teams to observe the impact of the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) with the lunar surface during the mission’s search for water ice on the Moon.
The LCROSS mission is a small companion mission to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in spring 2009. Instruments aboard the satellite are designed to search for evidence of water ice on the Moon as the spacecraft collides with a permanently shadowed crater near one of the Moon’s poles. The resulting debris plumes are expected to be visible from Earth with telescopes 10 to 12 inches (25.4 to 30.5 centimeters) in diameter or larger.
The observation teams will provide additional data and analysis about permanently shadowed craters to help researchers determine if water exists on the moon and in what form. The LCROSS mission and the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) of Columbia, Maryland, established specific selection criteria. USRA administered the rigorous selection process.
“The LCROSS team is extremely pleased with the quality of proposals received,” said Jennifer Heldmann, lead for the LCROSS Observation Campaign at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Each proposal “will contribute substantially to the LCROSS mission.”
The selected proposals are:
– Accessing LCROSS Ejecta: Water Vapor and Particle Size and Composition from Keck, Gemini, and the IRFT Telescopes; principal investigator Eliot Young, Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
– LCROSS Lunar Plume Observations with the Apache Point Observatory; principal investigator Nancy Chanover, New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
– Multi-spectral Imaging of the LCROSS Impact; principal investigator Marc Buie, Southwest Research Institute.
– Searching for Polar Water Ice During the LCROSS Impact Using the MMT (multiple mirror telescope) Observatory; principal investigator Faith Vilas, University of Arizona in Tucson.
“We are proud to be a part of the process that will enable these very important observations and look forward to working with the principal investigators and our NASA counterparts to ensure success in the observation campaign,” said Frank Curran, director of USRA’s Operations in Huntsville, Alabama. Curran was USRA’s coordinator for the selection process.
On the night of the impacts, the LCROSS science team will be in constant contact with professional astronomers to provide live targeting information. This information is crucial to ensuring the astronomers point their large telescopes correctly to capture the exact moment of the impacts and the resulting debris plumes.