Saying Goodbye to a Really Amazing Spacecraft (and Team)
Well, we all knew it was going to happen. It was inevitable. It was the whole design of the mission. LCROSS was destined to end its wonderfully fantastic journey by intentionally crashing into a permanently shadowed crater at the south pole of the Moon. We are the ones who devised this fate for LCROSS. So why should we be surprised (and just a little bit sad) now that the time has finally come?
As a proud member of the LCROSS Science Team and as the Observation Campaign Coordinator, I would have to say that working on this mission has been one of the highlights of my career thus far. The mission itself is truly amazing (We’re impacting the Moon! We’re looking to see if there’s water ice at the poles! We’re going to this utterly unexplored place in our Solar System, so close to home, and are so excited about what we’re yet to learn!). LCROSS is so important to both science and exploration. This mission is blazing a new path in how to build small, robust spacecraft both on schedule and on budget. LCROSS uses eight (yes eight!) commercial off-the-shelf instruments for its payload – also a very novel way for NASA to get more bang for the buck as well as good science to boot. The technical aspects of the LCROSS mission are astounding, but none of this would be possible without the dedication of the *people* working on this project.
The LCROSS Team is made up of an amazing cadre of individuals. LCROSS has a relatively lean and nimble team. There’s still a lot of work to be done to send a spacecraft to the Moon, and so that means that everyone has to pull together to make things happen. If somebody is extra busy and needs help, you help them. If there’s something that needs to be done and you’ve never done it before, you figure out how to do it. If you are stuck and need some assistance, just ask your teammates and without hesitation people are willing to help. We all naturally come together to get the job done. There is a high level of trust and commitment on this team, starting with the top Project management and all the way through the people working the nitty-gritty technical aspects. It is truly a glorious experience to work with a team such as this. The best part is that everyone is working towards a common goal, and everyone is willing and able to contribute in whatever way is needed in order to achieve the objective. It is amazing what a group of people can do when presented with a fascinating project and an exciting challenge.
And it’s not just the Project folks who have helped make this happen, but it’s all of the students and members of the general public who have so substantially contributed to the successes of LCROSS. Student interns at NASA Ames have had the opportunity to work with real honest-to-goodness flight hardware. Not everyone has the opportunity in college to hold an instrument that will be on the Moon within the next year! Such opportunities are tremendously powerful for encouraging the students of today to continue the pursuit of careers in math, science, and engineering. Amateur astronomers from around the world have been imaging LCROSS in the night sky during its trip to the Moon and are planning to collect observations of the impacts as well. This is a great way to actively participate in a NASA mission. We’ve also been having a great time keeping folks updated regarding LCROSS activities through our NASA website as well as the LCROSS Facebook and Twitter accounts. Thousands of people are following LCROSS on these sites and we’re thrilled to be able to have a two-way dialog to discuss all things lunar!
So, although this mission was destined to end in a spectacular grande finale culminating with two lunar impacts, it is a bit sad to see this phase of the project come to a close. However, next up is the exciting analysis of the data to try and learn all we can about these enigmatic regions on our very own Moon. And here’s to hoping there are lots more missions coming up in the future, because we are fired up and ready to go!