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Samedi, 10 Septembre 2011 19:32

GRAIL Heading to the Moon With MoonKAM

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GRAIL Heading to the Moon With MoonKAM

The GRAIL Mission (Image: NASA)

This morning, NASA launched the GRAIL mission to the Moon. Launched from Cape Canaveral aboard a Delta II rocket, the GRAIL mission is going to map the gravitational field of the Moon in unprecedented detail and provide new insight into the Moon’s internal structure.

Based on the very successful GRACE mission, GRAIL stands for the Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory. The mission actually consists of two spacecraft that were launched together, GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B. The two spacecraft will fly in a near circular polar orbit of the Moon approximately 200 km apart. By continually taking very precise measurements of the distance between the two spacecraft, the mission can measure changes in the gravitational field of the Moon as the twin spacecraft pass over the surface. The is accomplished through the use of precision radio distance ranging between the two spacecraft. It will take the two spacecraft about three and a half months to reach Lunar orbit due to the low-energy transfer orbit being implemented that dramatically reduces the amount of fuel needed to get to the Moon.

In addition to this primary science mission, there are a secondary set of cameras with the specific mission goal of engaging students in science and engineering. Led by Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, the cameras are part of the Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students, or MoonKAM:

GRAIL MoonKAM will engage middle schools across the country in the GRAIL mission and lunar exploration. Tens of thousands of fifth- to eighth-grade students will select target areas on the lunar surface and send requests to the GRAIL MoonKAM Mission Operations Center (MOC). Photos of the target areas will be sent back by the GRAIL satellites and made available in the Images section of this Web site. Students will use the images to study lunar features such as craters, highlands, and maria while also learning about future landing sites.

The MoonKAM project website features a great set of resources for educators and the registration form for educators to be able to participate in the MoonKAM program. Registered educators can work with their students and put in requests for images from the Moon. MoonKAM is similar to the EarthKAM project that has cameras aboard the ISS in Earth orbit. You can follow the MoonKAM project at @GRAIL_MoonKAM.

Congratulations to the GRAIL and MoonKAM team on a successful launch! We are all looking forward to the scientific discoveries!

Brian is a NASA engineer by day and a GeekDad contributor by night. Opinions shared are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of NASA.
Follow @bjmclaughlin on Twitter.


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