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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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ftuna2u2 April 18 2014 at 12:19 PM

Maybe Pink Floyd will get back together and write a song about this.
One can hope...

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1 reply
lregan066 ftuna2u2 April 18 2014 at 12:28 PM

I was just thinking the same thing. I would bet that Pink Floyd knows more about the dark side of the moon that NASA does.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
sscenes April 18 2014 at 1:05 PM

Tell the truth! It was shot down by the people on the moon! They know what you are up to and are fully aware of your nuke intentions...

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
lenny87brown sscenes April 18 2014 at 1:28 PM

I thought the colonies that inhabited the dark side left millennia ago when the space dust eventually pulverized their crystal housing structures and refueling depots. So who was left to shoot down this latest intruder?

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arcoregar April 18 2014 at 1:05 PM

"I'll meet you on the dark side of the moon..."

Flag Reply +5 rate up
bbjharch April 18 2014 at 1:06 PM

"...the orbiting spacecraft crashed into the back side of the moon as planned"

reminds me of Pee Wee Herman flipping over after his bike crashed and saying "I meant to do that".

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
karen and pitts bbjharch April 18 2014 at 1:15 PM

its a priceless steinway? says clouseau, not anymore

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Richard April 18 2014 at 1:09 PM

The "dark" side. Ummmmm.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
robogabriel April 18 2014 at 1:10 PM

That's impossible. There's no dark side of the moon. It's all dark!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
cjguerney April 18 2014 at 1:12 PM

Two hundred eighty million dollars for a mission that lasted a month longer than expected and performed better than it was designed to do. What other government agency can say that? Powerball jackpots that get that high rarely get any press unless they're in the half-billion dollar range. We're getting a bargain from NASA.

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1 reply
bonitoking61 cjguerney April 18 2014 at 1:15 PM

Bargain? Based on what?

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jojo61jo April 18 2014 at 1:13 PM

why blow up the moon another blast from the past . wtg guys couldnt you think of something else to have it hit ?

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1 reply
eturner1952 jojo61jo April 18 2014 at 1:14 PM

"blow up the moon?" SMH.

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Tupalov144 April 18 2014 at 1:13 PM

The UFOS need some wreckage to examine.

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paul April 18 2014 at 1:15 PM

It is n will be only a matter of time before mainstream science n scienists around the world will find what they've been looking for which in my opinin is did or dose life exisist elsewhere in the solar system or beyond our solar system.As I believe that the evidence suggests that the human race is not alone.

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2 replies
robert2038 paul April 18 2014 at 1:24 PM

You are correct, forms of life exist everywhere, even in our Solar System, we will not know for several years as our technology is not yet to that point.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
sbettybooi paul April 18 2014 at 1:28 PM

Yes, GOD is up in the heavenlies watching the foolishness of these scientist wasting money on what they will never know. LOL!!!

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