A pair of NASA spacecraft are deliberately crashed into a mountain near the moon’s north pole, ending a mission that peered into the lunar interior.
PASADENA, CALIf. — A pair of NASA spacecraft were deliberately crashed into a mountain near the moon’s north pole on Monday, ending a mission that peered into the lunar interior.
Engineers commanded the twin spacecraft, Ebb and Flow, to fire their engines and burn their remaining fuel. Ebb plunged first followed by Flow about 30 seconds later.
Afterward, NASA said it had dedicated the impact site in honor of mission team member Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, who died earlier this year. By design, the spot was far away from the Apollo landings and other historical sites.
Ride’s sister, who huddled in the NASA control room for the finale, said it might be time to dust off Ride’s first telescope to view the newly named site.
“We can look at the moon with a new appreciation and a smile in the evening when we see it knowing that a little corner of the moon is named after Sally,” the Rev. Bear Ride said in an interview.
Since the crash occurred in the dark, it was not visible from Earth. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter circling the moon will pass over the mountain and attempt to photograph the skid marks left by the washing machine-sized spacecraft as they hit the surface at 3,800 mph.
After launching in September 2011, Ebb and Flow took a roundabout journey to the moon, arriving over the New Year’s holiday on a gravity-mapping mission.
More than 100 missions have been flung to Earth’s nearest neighbor since the dawn of the Space Age, including NASA’s six Apollo moon landings that put 12 astronauts on the surface.
The demise of Ebb and Flow comes on the same month as the 40th launch anniversary of Apollo 17, the last manned mission to the moon.
Ebb and Flow focused exclusively on measuring the moon’s lumpy gravity field in a bid to learn more about its interior and early history. After flying in formation for months, they produced the most detailed gravity maps of any body in the solar system.
Data so far also appeared to quash the theory that Earth once had two moons that collided and melded into one.