By Leonard DavidScientists are plotting out a “crash course” in learning what happens when a European lunar probe slams into the Moon.
The European Space Agency’s (ESA) SMART-1 spacecraft—now circling the Moon—is headed for a planned early September impact with Earth’s celestial neighbor.
The ESA probe would plow into the lunar surface, giving it a glancing blow as it speeds in at nearly 5,000 miles per hour (2 kilometers per second).
SMART-1 is Europe’s first robotic lunar mission. The name SMART stands for Small Mission for Advanced Research in Technology
The spacecraft was launched on September 27, 2003. Making use of its ion-propulsion engine to slowly nudge it outward from Earth, the probe powered its way into lunar orbit on November 15, 2004.
Outfitted with miniaturized instruments, SMART-1’s goal has been to gauge key chemical elements in the lunar surface, as well as look into the theory that the Moon was formed following the violent collision of a smaller planet with Earth long ago.
ESA’s lunar probe completes a loop around the Moon every five hours—but that’s about to end later this year.
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See Also: Cosmos 1 'Lost in Space'