NASA seems to be as rudder-less as some of its spacecraft these days. Already there’s talk of scrapping a planned manned return to the moon which is probably a good thing since the rocket designed to accomplish that has already malfunctioned causing a delay in its testing.
The space shuttle fleet is due to be mothballed next year which is also a good thing since the ships are so old and inefficient they would have qualified for Cash for Clunkers if there had been anything to trade them in for.
And the International Space Station is currently hosting a clown. Yes, a clown, who also used to be a circus fire eater. The Canadian founder of Cirque du Soleil reportedly paid more than $35 million to hitch a ride on a Russian spacecraft to visit the space station and clown around. Do you think anybody from NASA ever phones the space station just to ask, “Hey, what are you guys doing up there?”
But there is one thing that NASA does very well and apparently it’s decided to take the old advice that you should always go with your strengths. NASA, the National Administrators of Space Accidents, is really good at crashing things into other things. Remember the Mars Observer? The Mars Polar Lander? The Mars Climate Orbiter? The Mars Global Surveyor? All of them made it to Mars just fine only to crash into the planet at the last minute. No word yet on whether texting while driving was involved.
But NASA has learned something from its mistakes and that is that it’s really good at crashing things. So this Friday, it plans to crash yet another spacecraft. This time deliberately. Apparently the thinking was that, hey, if you’re good at something, put it to use.
What NASA plans to do Friday morning is crash the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, otherwise known as LCROSS, along with the Centaur rocket that’s still attached to it, into a crater near the moon’s south pole.
Which crater is still up in the air since the agency has changed its mind on that three times since July.
There’s nothing really wrong with LCROSS although it did waste half its fuel supply due to a faulty sensor. And NASA administrators didn’t just wake up one morning and say, “Hey, we haven’t crashed anything in a while. What do we have up there?” The crash was planned from the beginning.
Scientists hope the impact will throw up a plume of debris high enough for the Hubble and Earth-based telescopes to see it and analyze it for signs of water that could be frozen in regions that are in perpetual shade.
LCROSS, by the way, cost $79 million. My question is, why not just fire an old washing machine at the moon? Same result.
NASA is dedicating Friday’s crash to the late Walter Cronkite, an avid space buff. Something tells me Walter’s probably glad he’s not around to see it.
Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.