January 9, 2008 Vol. 1, Issue 1
Lunar Prospector was launched on January 6, 1998 to examine the origins and evolution of the moon and determine whether or not water ice is present in its polar regions.
The spacecraft, which was launched on an Athena II rocket, carried five instruments to The spacecraft, which was launched on an Athena II rocket, carried five instruments to collect data about the lunar surface. Its findings have enabled scientists to create the most complete and detailed maps to date of the gravity, magnetic properties and chemical composition of the moon’s entire surface.
Lunar Prospector was originally planned as a one-year mission that would set the spacecraft in a lunar orbit 100 km above the surface of the moon. After achieving all of its mission objectives, its life was extended in January 1999 for an additional seven months, and its orbit was lowered, first to 30 km and then to 10 km above the lunar surface. This provided much higher-resolution data, particularly for experiments concerning magnetic fields and gravity.
With the spacecraft nearing its planned end of life, scientists searching for evidence of water vapor directed it to collide into the surface of the moon inside a permanently shadowed crater near the lunar south pole. Water vapor was not observed as a result of the impact.
Lunar Prospector was the third mission in NASA’s Discovery program.