Lunar Prospector poised for Monday launch
January 4, 1998
Web posted at: 3:28 p.m. EST (2028 GMT)
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (CNN) -- It may not be getting all
the advance publicity of a big budget Hollywood movie, but
NASA says its Lunar Prospector has the potential to become
the blockbuster of the coming century.
At $65 million from start to finish, Prospector is NASA's
most cost-effective mission ever.
"We wanted to show that for the cost of a typical Hollywood
movie, you can explore interplanetary space," said mission
manager Scott Hubbard. "I personally think this is the best
little $65 million mission money can buy."
NASA hasn't launched a mission to the moon in more than 25
years, so what's all the fuss about?
And, perhaps, secrets about the origin of the universe.
A lake of 'moon penguins'
Apollo 8 photograph of the Earth rising above the
Lunar Propector is scheduled to launch Monday evening, at
about 8:30 p.m. EST. By January 10, Prospector is expected
to be in its orbit around the moon, where it will stay for about a year, until it runs out of fuel and crashes into the
"The goals of the mission are scientific," NASA administrator
Wesley Huntress told reporters Sunday. "They're to remotely
prospect the lunar crust and its atmosphere for potential
resources, including minerals, potential water, ice, and
Prospector also will map the moon's surface and collect data
to determine if it has a magnetic field, which will tell NASA
scientists whether the moon has a core. If one truly exists,
scientists will be able to learn more about the moon's
origins and perhaps even the origins of the universe.
But NASA knows the question most people want answered is
whether water exists on the moon. The answer to that most
probably lies at the moon's south geological pole -- the only
part of the moon that is always in total darkness.
Prospector will look there for hydrogen and polar caps.
"You won't see a lake with moon penguins skating around it,"
Hubbard said. "You'll have water ice mixed in with lunar
soil. If there's a cup of water in a cubic yard of lunar
soil, we'll see it."
Scientists say the moon was "born dry," but that
water could have come in contact with its surface via comets,
and other objects that may have made impact over the eons.
In order for the substance to have stayed intact, it must
have avoided contact with the sun's energy -- hence the
concentration of Propector's search on the southern pole.
The discovery of polar caps would make it easier for future
space explorers to establish a lunar base, but not finding
water would not make establishing a lunar base impossible.
"Is there or is there not water at the South pole? Either
answer is acceptable ... we've done our mission," Huntress
The Prospector team says they could know the answer within
the mission's first 30 days.
Launch looks good
Fully loaded with fuel and all five scientific instruments,
Prospector weighs a mere 650 pounds. NASA officials say the
rocket and payload have been in place on the pad since just
Prospector's launch will be the first at the new Spaceport
Florida pad, designed specifically for today's newer, smaller
breed of spacecraft. Florida built the pad to help keep the
state at the center of space exploration into the next
NASA officials say while rain is projected off Cape Canaveral
through Tuesday, the possible showers should not interfere
with Prospector's scheduled launch, which has a four-minute