A doomed space probe has returned a stunning video of the lunar landscape. Ebb, one of the twin GRAIL spacecraft, took a breathtaking flyover video of the moon’s far side three days before the GRAIL mission team intentionally smashed the space probe into the moon. Ebb recorded the video on December 14.
Ebb was only six miles above the lunar surface when it took the video using its MoonKAM (Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students) camera. To create the video, GRAIL scientists pieced together about 2,400 individual frames to make the two-minute flyover video of the lunar landscape, according to NASA officials.
The GRAIL spacecraft made a name for themselves when they generated a highly-detailed gravity map of the moon. The map told scientists that the moon was rocked by ancient collisions far more violently than astronomers previously thought. The gravity map also revealed that the moon’s crust was pulverized billions of years ago. Astronomers believe that Earth, Mercury, Venus and Mars were likely impacted in the same way.
The GRAIL spacecraft were intentionally smashed into the lunar surface because neither probe had enough altitude or fuel to continue gathering precise gravity calculations. This scientific mission required the spacecraft to orbit low over the moon, which uses up a lot of fuel. During the primary mission, the GRAIL spacecraft flew about 35 miles above the lunar surface.
With their fuel gauges almost on empty, the space agency guided the spacecraft into the lunar surface, while being careful to avoid hitting any of the famous sites on the moon.
According to The Associated Press, the last time NASA intentionally fired manmade objects at the moon was in 2009. While the crash was a public relations washout, The AP notes that the experiment proved that the moon contained water.
The stunning flyover video of the lunar surface comes as NASA revealed last September that the space agency wants to return to the moon. “We are going back to the moon,” said Lori Garver, the No. 2 NASA official, at an industry conference in Pasadena, Calif., according to The Wall Street Journal.
Space policy expert John Logsdon, a professor emeritus at George Washington University, told Space.com in November that NASA is likely to unveil its ambitious plans for manned moon missions soon, especially now that President Barack Obama has been reelected to a second term.
Space.com reports that NASA has been reportedly looking into setting up a manned outpost beyond the moon’s far side, as part of an effort to establish a human presence in deep space and to gather momentum for a planned visit to an asteroid in 2025.
During the Republican presidential race, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich pushed for a lunar outpost. While campaigning along Florida’s space coast in January 2012, Gingrich promised the audience a manned lunar outpost by the end of his second term.
“By the end of my second term,” Gingrich said, “we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American.”
An actual manned lunar outpost faces some serious budgetary and political issues. Space.com notes that not only does NASA not have a vehicle for transporting astronauts to the moon, but the motivation for such a trip may not exist. According to a 2009 independent analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a manned lunar based would cost approximately $35 billion, with the cost of yearly upkeep adding up to more than $7 billion.
Should NASA return to the moon or should it focus its efforts on sending a manned mission to Mars?