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NASA'S Twin GRAIL Spacecraft Reunite In Lunar Orbit


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PASADENA, Calif. -- The second of NASA's two Gravity Recovery And

Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft has successfully completed its

planned main engine burn and is now in lunar orbit. Working together,

GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B will study the moon as never before.

 

"NASA greets the new year with a new mission of exploration," said

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "The twin GRAIL spacecraft will

vastly expand our knowledge of our moon and the evolution of our own

planet. We begin this year reminding people around the world that

NASA does big, bold things in order to reach for new heights and

reveal the unknown."

 

GRAIL-B achieved lunar orbit at 2:43 p.m. PST (5:43 p.m. EST) yesterday.

GRAIL-A successfully completed its burn yesterday at 2 p.m. PST (5

p.m. EST). The insertion maneuvers placed the spacecraft into a

near-polar, elliptical orbit with an orbital period of approximately

11.5 hours. Over the coming weeks, the GRAIL team will execute a

series of burns with each spacecraft to reduce their orbital period

to just under two hours. At the start of the science phase in March

2012, the two GRAILs will be in a near-polar, near-circular orbit

with an altitude of about 34 miles (55 kilometers).

 

During GRAIL's science mission, the two spacecraft will transmit radio

signals precisely defining the distance between them. As they fly

over areas of greater and lesser gravity caused by visible features

such as mountains and craters, and masses hidden beneath the lunar

surface, the distance between the two spacecraft will change slightly.

 

Scientists will translate this information into a high-resolution map

of the moon's gravitational field. The data will allow scientists to

understand what goes on below the lunar surface. This information

will increase knowledge of how Earth and its rocky neighbors in the

inner solar system developed into the diverse worlds we see today.

 

Each spacecraft carries a small camera called GRAIL MoonKAM (Moon

Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students) with the sole purpose

of education and public outreach. The MoonKAM program is led by Sally

Ride, America's first woman in space, and her team at Sally Ride

Science in collaboration with undergraduate students at the

University of California in San Diego.

 

GRAIL MoonKAM will engage middle schools across the country in the

GRAIL mission and lunar exploration. Thousands of fifth- to

eighth-grade students will select target areas on the lunar surface

and send requests to the GRAIL MoonKAM Mission Operations Center in

San Diego. Photos of the target areas will be sent back by the GRAIL

satellites for students to study.

 

A student contest that began in October 2011 also will choose new

names for the spacecraft. The new names are scheduled to be announced

in January 2012. Ride and Maria Zuber, the mission's principal

investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in

Cambridge, chaired the final round of judging.

 

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., manages the

GRAIL mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The

GRAIL mission is part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA's

Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin

Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft.

 

For more information about GRAIL, visit:

 

http://www.nasa.gov/grail

 

Information about MoonKAM is available online at:

 

http://solarsystem.n...l/education.cfm

 

Source: nasa.GIF, via Aviation News Releases Magazine: http://www.aviationn...reunite-in.html

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