Twin NASA spacecraft prepare to crash into moon

700_1e99a6b6581b3eb34ab022845efc27b5Ebb and Flow, the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission probes, are being sent purposely into the lunar surface because their low orbit and low fuel levels preclude further scientific operations. The duo’s successful prime and extended science missions generated the highest-resolution gravity field map of any celestial body. The map will provide a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed and evolved.

“It is going to be difficult to say goodbye,” said GRAIL principal investigator Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “Our little robotic twins have been exemplary members of the GRAIL family, and planetary science has advanced in a major way because of their contributions.”

The mountain where the two spacecraft will make contact is located near a crater named Goldschmidt. Both spacecraft have been flying in formation around the moon since Jan. 1, 2012. They were named by elementary school students in Bozeman, Mont., who won a contest. The first probe to reach the moon, Ebb, also will be the first to go down, at 2:28:40 p.m. PST. Flow will follow Ebb about 20 seconds later.

These maps of Earth’s moon highlight the region where the twin spacecraft of NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission will impact on Dec. 17, marking the end of its successful endeavor to map the moon’s gravity. The two washing-machine-sized spacecraft, named Ebb and Flow, will impact at an unnamed mountain near the moon’s North Pole. These maps are from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image credit: NASA/GSFC

Both spacecraft will hit the surface at 3,760 mph (1.7 kilometers per second). No imagery of the impact is expected because the region will be in shadow at the time.

( via phys.org )