European probe takes a long close look at the Moon

The European probe Smart 1 is ahead of schedule to reach it's orbit around the moon. It's efficient solar-powered Xenon ion fuel propulsion rocket will accelerate it slowly but steadily into a stable elliptical orbit (ranging 300 to 3000 km) around February 1st 2005.

Goals for the probe are to:

  • investigate the origin of the moon (currently believed to be the Earth's daughter, arising from a collision of a planetary embyro with the Earth 4.5 billion years ago)
  • investigate the Solar Systems' largest crater on the "dark side", to understand the moon's geology
  • shed light on the early composition of the Earth (the moon consists of material from the Earth's mantle)
  • look for suitable locations for future Moon colonies, such as the promising Peak of Eternal Light near the south pole; this region is flat, earning its name from the continuous sunlight (a source of heat and electrical power)
  • search for water-ice in deep craters which could provide water and oxygen

If all of these objectives can be achieved, it would greatly aid the creation of a continuously manned moonbase. The Moon's gravity (a sixth of Earth's) would help astronauts to maintain muscle tone and bone mass, assisted say by weighted clothing and a regimen of exercise. Imagine waking up to a view of Earth, a huge blue-green planet against the backdrop of an infinity of stars, partly eclipsed by the grey surface of the Moon - astonishing.

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