I’m pissed off at NASA.
Yes. I felt exceptionally let down after their horribly anticlimactic LCROSS impact earlier this month. One 5AM retweet still reverberates in my mind: “Only NASA could make blowing up the moon boring”.
But I’m not pissed off about that. Novelist and scholar Issac Asimov once appropriately quipped “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny …’”.
The fact that the impact’s plume was less than expected yields new insight and discussion. Why didn’t this behave the way we expected it to behave? What didn’t we account for? Do we need to modify our models? Or is it Neptune’s fault?
The reason I’m actually pissed off is that I believe NASA is failing (or at least slipping in their attempts) to inspire and ignite the dwindling scientific interest of our youth. And as Fountains of Wayne struggled to repeat their success of “Stacy’s Mom”, NASA too has struggled to surpass its Moon landing.
How’s that for an attention grabbing headline?
Mark your calendars. On October 9th, LCROSS will reach the end of its 4-month trek and slam into a crater on Earth’s favorite orbiting heavenly body.
I have conflicting reports on whether or not you should be able to see the plume of debris with a cheap-ass telescope from Target. But there should at least be two quick flashes of light from the south pole of the moon. Best to make friends with that weird guy at work with the $8000 Schmidt-Cassegrain.
For viewing info and ample graphs, NASA has provided all you’ll need. NASA TV will also have spiffy live coverage of this once-in-a-lifetime-until-China-does-it-again event.
[Flashback: LCROSS launch party]
“No, we’re not going to break the moon. But we’re gonna put a dent in it.”
It’s Thursday, June 18th, 2009 and LCROSS is patiently waiting atop an Atlas V-Centaur at Cape Canaveral Florida. Patience is the word of the day. 2700 miles away at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach California, James Wehner, the LCROSS Deputy Program Manager, is taking questions from a roomful of engineers and their families.
LCROSS, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, was a dual build between Northrop Grumman and the NASA Ames Research Center. What was described as a “fast-track, low-cost” project, LCROSS is billed as an overwhelmingly successful display of system engineering. A piggy-back to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), LCROSS was quickly designed and built by Northrop Grumman to fill excess space on NASA’s launch vehicle. Using many recylced and off-the-shelf parts, LCROSS was delivered early this year — on-time and under budget.