Later Moon probes

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Through the early 1970s, the Soviet Union compensated for its failure to land men on the Moon with a series of complex unmanned probes. More recent missions have studied our satellite's mineral resources in detail.

6 January 1998

NASA launches its Lunar Prospector probe.

31 July 1999

Lunar Prospector is crashed into the Moon's south polar region.

27 September 2003

ESA launches its SMARM Moon probe.

LUNA SAMPLER

Luna 16 and its successors used a two-stage spacecraft. A descent stage fitted with cameras and instruments acted as a launch pad for the cylindrical return capsule.

If it had successfully landed on the Moon in July 1969, Luna 15 might have given Soviet scientists some comfort even as Apollo 11 upstaged their efforts. It was the first in a new generation of Luna probes, equipped with an automatic drill and a small capsule that could bring a sample of lunar dust back to Earth orbit under remote control. Instead, the spacecraft retrorockets failed, sending it slamming into its target zone in the Sea of Crises.

Luna phase II

Despite this failure, unmanned craft clearly offered a cost-effective way for Soviet scientists to continue exploring the Moon. Luna 16 worked perfectly, landing on the Sea of Fertility in September 1970 and drilling 100g (3V20Z) of rock that was returned to Earth over Soviet territory. Another new type of mission was pioneered by Luna 17 in November 1971. After landing in the Sea of Rains region, the probe released an automatic rover, Lunokhod 1. The size of a small car, it was designed to operate under solar power, with rechargeable batteries to see it through the long lunar night. Lunokhod 1 trundled around the surface for 321 days, photographing its landing area and analyzing the soil chemistry.

The Luna programme continued until 1976, through seven more missions - Luna 21 carried another Lunokhod, while Lunas 18, 20, 23, and 24 ' <

TECHNOLOGY

POLAR SNAPSHOT

Because the Apollo missions and earlier lunar probes had only moderately inclined orbits, they did not get, good look at the lunar poles. However, their image^ hinted that there might be a truly enormous depression at the lunar south pole - most likely an ancient impact basin. Clementine confirmed the presence of this vast crater, the South Pole-Aitken Basin, some 2,500km (1,550 miles) across. Because the Sun only ever rises a few degrees into the polar skies, there are deep craters within the basin that never see sunlight, and some of these craters seem to shelter deposits of ice - perhaps deposited by comet impacts.

were sample-return missions (though 18 and 23 failed for various reasons). Lunas 19 and 22 were advanced orbiting surveyors, capable of changing the shapes of their orbits, and each operated for more than a year.

LUNOKHOD ROVER

Some 2.5m (8ft) long and 1.5m (5ft) wide, the Lunokhod had a strong resemblance to a bathtub on wheels. The rover's lid was covered in solar panels. It could tilt to face the Sun or close up to keep the probe warmer in the lunar night.

pivoting lid covered with solar cells

telescopic antenna

LUNA SAMPLER

Luna 16 and its successors used a two-stage spacecraft. A descent stage fitted with cameras and instruments acted as a launch pad for the cylindrical return capsule.

pivoting lid covered with solar cells

independent motor units for each wheel front-mounted stereo cameras pressurized body for electronics each wheel___

has independent suspension front-mounted stereo cameras pressurized body for electronics each wheel___

has independent suspension telescopic antenna independent motor units for each wheel

THORIUM ON THE MOON

Lunar Prospector's Gamma Ray Spectrometer allowed it to detect the radioactive signatures of various lunar elements. This map shows the distribution of thorium, a potential nucleor fuel.

LUNAR PROSPECTOR

An engineer mokes final adjustments to Lunar Prospector before its launch in 1998. The probe is already mounted on the upper stage that would send it from Earth orbit towards the Moon.

launched the more ambitious Lunar Prospector probe into orbit in 1998. Prospector was equipped with instruments to study the surface at a wider range of wavelengths. It compiled the first comprehensive mineral maps of the Moon, as well as studying the Moon's gravitational field and its weak magnetism. It reinforced the evidence for ice reserves on the lunar surface, which if proven would make the future colonization of the Moon a great deal easier. NASA hoped that it could clinch the case by sending Lunar Prospector crashing into one of the suspect craters at the end of its mission, but the impact failed to produce the hoped-for spray of icy material.

In 2003, ESA launched a lunar probe of its own, SMARM. This small spacecraft used an ion drive (see p.282) to travel to the Moon and carried instruments that continued the search for permanently shadowed craters and ice at the lunar poles.

LUNAR PROSPECTOR

An engineer mokes final adjustments to Lunar Prospector before its launch in 1998. The probe is already mounted on the upper stage that would send it from Earth orbit towards the Moon.

Back to the Moon

Following the end of the Luna program, the Moon was ignored for almost two decades. It was only in 1994 that a small spacecraft called Clementine reignited interest in our satellite. A collaboration between NASA and the US Department of Defense (it also tested the endurance of microelectronic

THORIUM ON THE MOON

Lunar Prospector's Gamma Ray Spectrometer allowed it to detect the radioactive signatures of various lunar elements. This map shows the distribution of thorium, a potential nucleor fuel.

components in deep space, beyond the protective Van Allen radiation belts), Clementine was the first probe developed under a "faster, better, cheaper" philosophy introduced at NASA following a series of high-profile, expensive failures. It went from concept to launch in 22 months, and sent 1.8 million digital images of the lunar surface back in just two months of orbital operations. Clementine discovered the first hints of ice at the lunar poles (see panel, opposite) and also photographed lunar terrain at different wavelengths, discovering colour differences that hinted at various minerals in the lunar surface. Building on these discoveries, NASA

THE VIEW FROM CLEMENTINE

Venus hangs just beyond the Moon in this photograph taken by Clementine above the night side of the Moon. The faint illumination on the right side of the Moon is caused by sunlight reflecting off the Earth.

THE VIEW FROM CLEMENTINE

Venus hangs just beyond the Moon in this photograph taken by Clementine above the night side of the Moon. The faint illumination on the right side of the Moon is caused by sunlight reflecting off the Earth.

Mariner's flight path

Venus flyby: February 1974

Mercury flybys: March 1974, September 1974 March 1975

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