Los Angeles: NASA's much-hyped mission to hurl a spacecraft into the moon turned out some worthwhile data after all, scientists said.
New images show a 1.6 kilometre-high plume of lunar debris from the Cabeus crater shortly after the space agency's Centaur rocket struck October 9.
"We were blown away by the data returned," Anthony Colaprete, the mission's chief scientist, said in a report Friday from the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, which managed the launch. "The team is working hard on the analysis, and the data appear to be of very high quality."
In media coverage before the impact, many observers said they were disappointed at the lack of spectacle.
But scientists said the mission was carried out for "a scientific purpose, not to put on a fireworks display for the public," said space consultant Alan Stern, a former NASA associate administrator for science.
By creating the debris cloud, scientists were able to use the USD79-million Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite to sample and study the dust. The LCROSS itself crashed into the same crater four minutes after the Centaur's impact, right on schedule, while its companion spacecraft, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, was flying in lunar orbit 80 kilometres above the site to gather still more data.
First Published: Sunday, October 18, 2009, 09:57