To the Moon!

Is there water on the moon? NASA crashes a rocket into the moon to find out.

Oct 23, 2009 | By Jonathan Rosenbloom

A rocket and satellite crashed into the moon on October 9, and it was no accident. The crash landing was planned by NASA. Scientists are hoping to find out if there's water on the moon. And the crash will help tell them.

The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission, or LCROSS, traveled to the moon's surface in two stages. First a rocket crashed into the Cabeus (kah-bay-us) crater at the moon's south pole. It kicked up tons of dust. Then, four minutes later, the satellite traveled through the dust plume. As it descended, instruments on the satellite started searching for water vapor in the plumes.

NASA chose the Cabeus crater because earlier missions had found evidence of hydrogen there. Hydrogen is a main ingredient of water. If scientists do find traces of hydrogen or water vapor, it could "set the stage for future lunar missions," said NASA's John Marmie. It could also put plans in-motion for people to stay on the moon for periods of time, he said.

Where's the Plume?

The $79 million project didn't go entirely as planned. Scientists thought the crash would send dust as high as 3.6 miles above the moon's surface. But telescopes on Earth and cameras aboard the satellite couldn't detect the dust.

Even if the dust didn't rise far above the moon's surface, LCROSS instruments found plenty of information for scientists to study in the next few weeks.

The landing was big news on Earth. Thousands watched the event on giant screens at NASA or through telescopes. Scientists are delighted with the mission. "This is so cool," said NASA's Jennifer-Heldmann. "We're thrilled."