"The LADEE mission has just over achieved all of our expectations for it, but it is approaching the end of its life," said Joan Salute, LADEE program executive by teleconference.
LADEE, launched from Wallops Island last September, has spent months orbiting the moon, collecting information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the moon's surface, and environmental influences on lunar dust - information that NASA scientists knew very little about until now.
"LADEE's science cup really overflowed. It was meant to be a 100-day mission. It’s gone beyond that," said Rick Elphic, project scientist. "LADEE has discovered a dust vale that enshrouds the moon perpetually. That shroud is caused by the steady rain of micrometeoroidal material down on the lunar surface. And each one of those micrometeoroids strikes the surface and sends up a large cloud of debris, which then LADEE flies through."
Now that LADEE's primary science phase is complete, scientists are turning their attention to more risky moves with the vending machine size spacecraft. One of them - having LADEE fly through an eclipse. It's a risky move because of the falling temperatures and freeze potential to the spacecraft. The other risk - flying LADEE at lower altitudes to make a planned impact on the surface of the moon by April 21.
"There is a chance that we could clip a mountain accidentally, but the risk is pretty low for that. And really, the value of the science that we can do with this attempt is worth this risk," said Butler Hine, LADEE project manager.
A risk NASA scientists are will to take so that we can learn more about the moon's atmosphere and those of other planets and moons in space.