by Alex Autin

NASA’s LADEE to ‘Take the Plunge’!


Launched from Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility on Sept 6, 2013, NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft with its three science payload instruments has been working to unravel mysteries of the lunar atmosphere and dust environment.

The vending-machine size spacecraft began orbiting the Moon on Oct 6, and on Nov 10 LADEE began gathering science data. On Nov 20 the spacecraft entered its science orbit around the moon’s equator. Following a very successful 100-day prime science phase, LADEE has since been in extended mission operations.

Currently the spacecraft is gradually lowering its orbital altitude over the Moon and is slated to impact (crash!) into the lunar surface later this month. The question is when will this impact take place…and NASA wants to hear your best guess.

On April 11 ground controllers at NASA’s Ames Research Center will command LADEE to perform its final orbital maintenance maneuver prior to a total lunar eclipse on April 15 (when Earth’s shadow will pass over the moon). This approximately four hour eclipse will expose the spacecraft to conditions just on the edge of what it was designed to survive. Mission managers expect LADEE to impact the Moon’s surface on, or before, April 21.

The spacecraft’s final maneuver will ensure that its trajectory impacts the far side of the moon, out of the Earth’s view and well away from any previous lunar mission landings so as to not disturb these sites. There are no plans to target a particular impact location on the lunar surface, however, and the exact date and time depends on several factors.

“The moon’s gravity field is so lumpy, and the terrain is so highly variable with crater ridges and valleys that frequent maneuvers are required or the LADEE spacecraft will impact the moon’s surface,” said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager at Ames, in a recent NASA news release. “Even if we perform all maneuvers perfectly, there’s still a chance LADEE could impact the moon sometime before April 21, which is when we expect LADEE’s orbit to naturally decay after using all the fuel onboard.”

And this is where YOU come in…


When do you think it’ll take the plunge? Date? Time? NASA is inviting folks to enter the ‘Take the Plunge: LADEE Impact Challenge’.  Anyone is eligible to enter, and more information along with an entry submission form can be found here. Submissions deadline is 3 pm PDT Friday, April 11. Winners will be announced after impact (crash!) and will be e-mailed a commemorative, personalized certificate from the LADEE program. And yes, I’ve already entered!


LADEE’s Sept 6, 2013 launch aboard an Orbital Sciences Corp Minotaur V rocket. Image Credit: NASA Wallops/Chris Perry

All images used credited to NASA.

19 responses

  1. I have a spot on my selected for the winning guess certificate. :-)

    Lumpy gravity sounds like a quantum gravity problem up there near the Moon. I think it will strike the edge of this bright red spot right center in this image.

    April 8, 2014 at 6:26 am

    • Ohhhh! Very cool image! So now we know where you think LADEE will crash, the question is WHEN will this happen!?

      April 8, 2014 at 7:38 am

  2. Kudos again to NASA for inviting everyone to play along!

    April 8, 2014 at 7:22 am

    • AND! Also for intentionally crashing stuff into the surface of other worlds. ;)

      April 8, 2014 at 7:37 am

      • Or at least, crashing it deliberately…

        April 8, 2014 at 7:50 am

  3. So there is no scientific data to be gathered from this crash? I know they’ve crashed things deliberately before to see what gets thrown up. As it is it sounds more like Douglas Adams with rock group ‘Disaster Area’ who for an encore crashed a ship into a sun. On a similar note I’ve found out that for the opening of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games they’re going to blow up five high-rise tower blocks, for the spectacle.

    April 8, 2014 at 9:09 am

    • You just made me want to re-read The Restaurant at the End Of the Universe! Badly! Which, by the way, I’ve just found, in its entirety, available online. So thanks for tying up the rest of my day….

      And really?? They’re not actually going to blow up 5 high-rise tower blocks for spectacle, are they!?? Not that there wouldn’t be an undeniable coolness in that.

      Lastly, as you know, there is scientific data to be gathered in everything!

      April 8, 2014 at 10:18 am

      • I don’t know if you have any interest in the original Hitchhiker radio series, but as its twenty years old they’ve just had a reunion and got the original cast back together to do it live. They squeezed the whole first book into an hour and it was a much-mangled affair. You’re probably better off with the book than that.

        I think the five tower blocks are due to go, so go they shall, possibly to music and much media attention. Glad to know that the big bang on the moon will be more useful as it sounded like they were just dumping it on the dark side.

        April 8, 2014 at 11:25 am

        • Reading the original radio scripts, long ago, was my introduction to Hitchhiker’s – and to Adams as well. From there, I couldn’t get enough. As for much-mangled affairs, nothing could be worse than the film. Horrible! I couldn’t even sit through it.

          I’m not so sure the ‘big bang’ is any more than actually just dumping it on the dark side, except that NASA’s now made a contest out of it.

          April 9, 2014 at 9:13 am

  4. My guess is LADDE will swing too close to a superbly dense mountain, which perturbs its orbit in such a perverse way that it misses luna entirely…

    …that’s possible, right?

    April 8, 2014 at 9:40 am

    • Miss the Moon entirely? Didn’t the Russians do something like that with Luna 1? Missed its intended impact with the Moon and ended up falling into orbit around the Sun?

      I suppose it’s possible :)

      April 8, 2014 at 9:48 am

  5. Thank you for this! I always love your posts and…I’ve submitted my guess! What fun! :)

    April 9, 2014 at 3:05 am

    • Thanks Sally! And good luck to you in the contest!

      April 9, 2014 at 9:13 am

  6. Just another example of NASA using audience participation … which is a grand idea …. as is the take-off on the Nestea Plunge.

    April 9, 2014 at 6:26 am

    • I agree Frank! Anything which gets people involved is good. I especially like that NASA holds events like these where the entire family, especially children, can take part. It creates an awareness and an inclusiveness which is very needed.

      April 9, 2014 at 9:17 am

      • … and I know I can count on you to keep me informed about these opportunities.

        April 9, 2014 at 6:23 pm

  7. whiteladyinthehood

    Good luck, Alex – I hope you have the winning entry!
    and on a side note, have you watched any of the new Cosmos? (I’ve been wondering if you liked it?)

    April 11, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    • Thanks Chica Blanca :D

      And yep, I’ve been watching Cosmos. I don’t own a TV, but I watch the full episodes the following day at the Fox Network site. Do I like it?! Nope! I LOVE it! Tyson rocks!

      April 12, 2014 at 7:25 am

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