for National Geographic News
NASA announced plans today to crash a space probe into the moon in search of water.
The probe will hitchhike on a lunar orbiter that the agency aims to launch in late 2008.
The landing will be the first step in an effort by NASA to return humans to the moon and eventually establish a manned base there.
"This mission is an early attempt at getting to know what some of the resources are [on the moon] that are going to have large implications [for] what we do in the future of [space] explorations," said Scott Horowitz, the exploration chief for NASA, at a news conference in Washington, D.C.
The mission will be the first U.S. moon landing in 36 years.
In late January NASA asked its ten regional field centers to submit proposals for a spacecraft that could travel to the moon with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which will be launched in October 2008.
The agency received 19 proposals.
Today NASA announced the winner of the competition: the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). A team at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, will develop the spacecraft.
The LCROSS mission consists of an impact probe and a "shepherding" spacecraft.
The SUV-size probe will crash into one of the permanently shadowed craters located near the moon's south pole. (See and download a photo of the moon's surface.)
Evidence of abundant stores of hydrogena prime element of waterhas been detected near the moon's poles by U.S. orbiters launched in the 1990s.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES