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LADEE, NASA's moon-orbiting robot, crashes into moon as planned

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- NASA's robotic moon explorer, LADEE, is no more.

Flight controllers confirmed Friday that the orbiting spacecraft crashed into the back side of the moon as planned, just three days after surviving a full lunar eclipse, something it was never designed to do.

Researchers believe LADEE likely vaporized when it hit because of its extreme orbiting speed of 3,600 mph, possibly smacking into a mountain or side of a crater. No debris would have been left behind.

"It's bound to make a dent," project scientist Rick Elphic predicted Thursday.

By Thursday evening, the spacecraft had been skimming the lunar surface at an incredibly low altitude of 300 feet. Its orbit had been lowered on purpose last week to ensure a crash by Monday following an extraordinarily successful science mission.

LADEE - short for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer - was launched in September from Virginia. From the outset, NASA planned to crash the spacecraft into the back side of the moon, far from the Apollo artifacts left behind during the moonwalking days of 1969 to 1972.

It completed its primary 100-day science mission last month and was on overtime. The extension had LADEE flying during Tuesday morning's lunar eclipse; its instruments were not designed to endure such prolonged darkness and cold.

But the small spacecraft survived - it's about the size of a vending machine - with just a couple pressure sensors acting up.

The mood in the control center at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., was upbeat late Thursday afternoon, according to project manager Butler Hine.

"Having flown through the eclipse and survived, the team is actually feeling very good," Hine told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

But the uncertainty of the timing of LADEE's demise had the flight controllers "on edge," he said.

As it turns out, LADEE succumbed within several hours of Hine's comments. NASA announced its end early Friday morning.

It will be at least a day or two before NASA knows precisely where the spacecraft ended up; the data cutoff indicates it smashed into the far side of the moon, although just barely.

LADEE did not have enough fuel to remain in lunar orbit much beyond the end of its mission. It joined dozens if not scores of science satellites and Apollo program spacecraft parts that have slammed into the moon's surface, on purpose, over the decades, officials said. Until LADEE, the most recent man-made impact was the LCROSS crater-observing satellite that went down in 2009.

During its $280 million mission, LADEE identified various components of the thin lunar atmosphere - neon, magnesium and titanium, among others - and studied the dusty veil surrounding the moon, created by all the surface particles kicked up by impacting micrometeorites.

"LADEE's science cup really overfloweth," Elphic said earlier this month. "LADEE, by going to the moon, has actually allowed us to visit other worlds with similar tenuous atmospheres and dusty environments."


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arenadood April 18 2014 at 5:04 PM

This may help to establish the Moon as a jumping off point for space exploration for the human race to move to once the Earth becomes uninhabital.

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Iselin007 April 18 2014 at 3:01 PM

I think NASA wants to keep some things quiet instead of showing everycard it has up it's sleeve.

Some Space stuff probably goes on behind everyone's back for security reasons. NASA is not like the BLS where estimates and pure BS take center stage. : )

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toneitup April 18 2014 at 12:29 PM

All this 280,000,000 what a bargin!

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mortwiw April 18 2014 at 2:50 PM

I won't argue that there is some value in some of the space explorations, I'm unconvinced about all of them, but that's not my concern for this comment. What bothers me is the intentional mission plan that the craft crashes onto the moon when done.

According to the article they said “LADEE likely vaporized when it hit because of its extreme orbiting speed of 3,600 mph, possibly smacking into a mountain or side of a crater. No debris would have been left behind”, but I would stress their use of the words "likely vaporized". When space junk crashes to Earth it often has debris reaching the surface even though it goes through the atmosphere reentry fireball phase. There is no atmosphere to cause a pre-crash burn for the moon. While I’m sure the impact speed did demolish the craft into extremely small and widespread pieces, I don’t see how it could truly cause solid material to change into gas which is the definition of vaporize.

The article also mentions “It joined dozens if not scores of science satellites and Apollo program spacecraft parts that have slammed into the moon's surface, on purpose, over the decades, officials said.” So this craft’s demise on the moon isn’t an isolated incident, we’re slowly but surely turning the moon into a junkyard. I'm breaking littering laws if I throw a biodegradable banana peel out my window into a rural road sideditch but we repeatedly leave behind or purposely crash expended space devices on the moon.

I’ll leave the whole issue of the unnatural, manmade physical damage to the moon’s surface caused by the crashes to another time.

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2 replies
Dan mortwiw April 18 2014 at 3:01 PM

Mort, we seem to be treating the moon the same as we do the Earth, with little respect. I guess the only difference is we won't be depending on the Moon for a place to live. We will probably pay for all this disrespect some day. I hope I will have left the planet by then.

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flameshoter1111 mortwiw April 18 2014 at 3:38 PM

i only read a couple paragraphs on what you have typed. There is a difference from our world compared to the moon. The moon doesn't have an atmosphere, and if it does, it is pretty weak. Both places contain their own gravity. Because the moon doesn't have the atmosphere, containing a lot of gas like nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, etc; it will not have the friction to burn the object. But if it smacked onto the surface of the moon, it should be damage if it was going 3600 mph like you said. I'm sure NASA put some kind of safety net for Ladee to prevent it from being totally damaged

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1 reply
mortwiw flameshoter1111 April 18 2014 at 4:41 PM

You should have read the third paragraph also so you would have gotten to the main point for which the preceding two paragraphs were laying foundation for. The main point was our ongoing trashing of the moon with used up space junk.

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exferryguy April 18 2014 at 2:49 PM

The Autobots learn of a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the moon, and race against the Decepticons to reach it and to learn its secrets.

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sweetbabi3 April 18 2014 at 2:34 PM

NASA supports millions of families, with the majority in private industry and working as contractors. They create tools, fabrics, medicines, and foods. Where do you think the stomach pump came from? NASA paid for the development. Johns Hopkins labs work directly with NASA and invent many medicines and tools. The stomach pump was intended for diabetes but now helps those in pain with cancer, etc. Your cell phone, your GPS....those need satellites, and NASA put up those satellites, and monitor them 24 x 7 days a week and all communications come down via TDRSS satellites to Goddard Space Flight Center outside DC , in Maryland. Think before you slam NASA. Do you like watching Satellite TV? Where do you think that information is received? GSFC outside DC and sent to other locations. NASA gets a fee for the use of the TDRSS by companies and other Government agencies. Many of your clothing, foods, medicines are invented by NASA. They have a huge technology transfer program. Educate yourself before you go off. think about that cell phone in your pocket....All tracked by NASA and next time you get directions, think of NASA, that plane you fly in, that internet you get when on the plane, thank NASA. They acquire all that information that enables your communications, it all comes down to GSFC, in Greenbelt, MD and from there is transferred to Verizon, or maybe AT&T, or thousands of companies, including Southwest, and companies all over the world. NASA is responsible for your cell information, your GPS, your plane trip, freeze dried food, many tools you use in your work and home, and on and on. Read about the technology transfer. When you get a call from your family, or you make a call, how do you think it gets there? by satellite communications, and all is tracked by NASA, including the health of that satellite. thousands of satellites in the sky being tracked at any given time by NASA.

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Pattizz April 18 2014 at 2:02 PM

Why why why does AOL have to have a video for every story they post? Most of the time i would be happy just reading the story versus having a video start (ads of course first).
I couldn't even pause the video for this story

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4 replies
finrod954 April 18 2014 at 1:36 PM

Just wanted to point out to you folks that once again the garbage can that is Huffington Post used a misleading headline to get you to click on this story so the ADS would play first. Every reputable news service let you know that the crash was intentional after an extremely successful mission. Email them and tell them you dont appreciate the constantly misleading headlines and will go out of your way to not patronize their advertisers.

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2 replies
sigmetsue finrod954 April 18 2014 at 1:49 PM

And the headline says LADEE crashed on the "dark side" -- woooo -- how Star Warsian. Maybe aliens? Darth Vader's evil empire?

No, seriously; most of you probably know this already, but just in case: the dark side is the side that the sun is not shining on, ie lunar night. When we have a "new moon," the dark side is pointing at Earth.

However, because a lunar day/night cycle is equal to a lunar year, the same side of the moon is always pointing toward Earth. We always see the same "man in the moon" crater and mare configuration.
The other side is the other side, or the "back side" as the news release said.

Now, LADEE may have crashed on the night side when it was night on the back side, but the main point was that they wanted it to crash on the side away from the Apollo landings. All the Apollos and robotic landers have landed on the near side in order to maintain radio contact with mission control.

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Sandy finrod954 April 18 2014 at 3:33 PM

I agree!!

And how about the end of the video when hp stole a couple explosion shots from a movie....just to make it more exciting! Not!

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anders443 April 18 2014 at 1:33 PM

well don // wish i could live a thousand years and watch humans expand acroos the galaxy

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ronald1216 April 18 2014 at 3:25 PM

waste of money, and here there complaining about global warming lol

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