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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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Intielza April 18 2014 at 11:32 AM

We need to go to the moon and colonize it! Not for ourselves, or our children , but rather for our species! The only long term future we have, as the human race, will be on other planets. The fact that we have lived on this planet so long with only one catastropic, or near extinction level event (Toba) in the last 300,000 years has been more of a fluke than anything else. We need to not only get all of our eggs out of the same basket, we need to get some of our chickens in another roost! Our survival demands it!

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1 reply
Jeffrey Tucker-m Intielza April 18 2014 at 11:59 AM

Why do you care whether our species survives?

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jdwlor April 18 2014 at 9:16 AM

How much of a waste is all the stuff that we now enjoy ,because of NASA.

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Bob April 18 2014 at 9:57 AM

those of you who think we trashed the moon you can go up there and clean it up and while you're up there heck just stay up there I don't think we'll miss you and if you dont mind take most of washington with you i think you know who i mean

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vossc531 April 18 2014 at 10:34 AM

Couldn't have said it better myself. Remember, the spin off's from the space program...like Teflon, cell phones, GPS and the list goes on....

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jaywpb April 18 2014 at 9:50 AM

Damn journalists--what a sensational headline with a nothing story!@! Why didn't the headline read, "lunar spacecraft meets mission objectives and crashes on moon as planned".

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1 reply
porkmcjuicy jaywpb April 18 2014 at 10:34 AM

obviously, because you would not have cared as much, and likely would not have clicked the link. You clicked it because you wanted to read about the unfortunate crash. Like you, a million other sheep such as myself also clicked a link that we wouldnt have toherwise, thereby increasing Ad revenue for AOL. DUHHHHH.

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dwtomczyk April 18 2014 at 11:22 AM

isnt "dark side of the moon" a flyod album

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DesmoDemon April 18 2014 at 10:54 AM

hockgoal16 is the most intelligent reply to a common misbelief about NASA, if you don't agree read the facts stated again and try to analize the information. It has been PROVEN that every dollar spent in NASA research, returns over ten dollars to the private sector. This is one of the best government programs we have !!!!!!!!

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1 reply
wlh1923 DesmoDemon April 18 2014 at 11:37 AM

How exclamatory of you (!!!!)

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estimatorone April 18 2014 at 10:27 AM

One thing for sure - you will always know "mankind" was there as
we leave plenty of trash around.

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ZZZZZZ April 18 2014 at 11:17 AM

NASA frequently amazes me with how so often its probes, space telescopes, etc, outlast their intended lifespans, and provide so much more info than was ever imagined. Hubble Space Telescope, (The AMAZING) Spirit & Opportunity Mars probes, etc. I give NASA projects, and the men and women who do the work, TWO THUMBS UP.
Science is IMPORTANT.
The problems we face here on Earth in our societies are not going to go away if we defund or deride NASA. At least NASA frequently gives us something to say, "Cool!" about

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frankbvt April 18 2014 at 9:19 AM

Related Headline: Moon Residents Mobilize for War

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