By January, NASA hopes to have two robotic spacecraft in a synchronized orbit around the moon. As they travel together, the twin satellites will work to create the most accurate map of the moon's gravity ever. The mission is called GRAIL, which stands for Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory. If all goes as planned, NASA will launch the rocket carrying the satellites this month.
Mission scientist Sami Asmar says GRAIL will use a radio beam between the two satellites to map the moon's gravity—and surface. As the craft fly over lunar features like mountains and craters, the length of the beam will change. That's because the features have different gravitational pulls. "The radio link increases or decreases its length," Asmar told TFK, "and we reconstruct the gravity field."
Researchers will use the data to better understand the structure of the inside of the moon. It will also help them find places to land future craft.
Sally Ride Takes Students on the Mission
Sally Ride—the first American woman in space—and her company Sally Ride Science have teamed up with NASA to take thousands of middle school students along on the GRAIL mission. Multiple cameras on the craft will give the students close-up views of the moon's surface.
Classrooms that sign up for the GRAIL MoonKAM program can request pictures of specific areas. The images will be posted on the MoonKAM website. Teachers and students can then study the moon's features in detail.
GRAIL will cost $496 million. Two unmanned craft taking thousands of students on a journey and uncovering lunar secrets—that sounds like money well spent.