September 05, 2013, 9:38 AM —
Image credit: Flickr/Eric Vanderpool
NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), set to launch late Friday morning, should give scientists insights into the moon's atmosphere that will be helpful for lunar exploration and lunar-based astronomy.
S. Pete Worden, director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, where the LADEE space craft was constructed, talked with The Washington Post about the mission and a few other things.
He cites one particular area of interest to scientists at NASA regarding the LADEE project.
"We learned a lot about the Moon when we went there with Apollo, but it actually opened more questions," Worden tells the Post. "One of the key things has been what is the environment on the Moon. It has a very, very tenuous atmosphere which is actually called an exosphere. There was some evidence from Apollo there might even be things like dust storms caused by interactions with solar wind."
This, he says, "would have a big impact on some of our human activities or large scale robotic activities there."
Why? Not to get all scientific on you, but dust just messes up everything!
Worden says another goal of LADEE is to study the moon in its pristine state before we start seeing McDonald's restaurants littering the lunar surface.
"There’s some urgency about that," he says. "In fact, at the end of the year the Chinese are supposed to land on the Moon. That alone will probably disrupt the exosphere considerably. So we really want the pristine state."
But it was the mission's third objective that caught my eye. From Worden to the Post:
"One of our big problems with any space mission is communications. Today we use radio with these giant radio dishes in the deep space network, some of which are hundreds of feet across, and that’s expensive and limited.
"Lasers, because they’re a much tighter beam than a radio beam, offer an exciting new way to get a lot more data down. That technology has advanced considerably so we added a laser communications test.
"As times go on we expect that we may eventually be able to get something you might call an interplanetary internet and this will be the first step in demonstrating we can do that. This will give us close to a gigabit per second from the Moon, which is pretty impressive – that’s more connectivity than most companies."
Was that a little dig at the private sector? Hard to tell. Either way, Worden tells the Post that "a solar system wide broadband is our ultimate objective."
And why not? It would be unfair to deprive our Mars colonists the dubious pleasure of watching Miley Cyrus twerk on YouTube. Though it might make them glad they can't get back to Earth.