At roughly 12:30AM ET early on Friday morning, a soda machine-sized NASA spacecraft slammed into the dark side of the moon at 3,600 miles per hour. The impact was entirely planned by NASA engineers in order to conclude the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer program, which launched late last year. After studying the composition of the lunar atmosphere for months, the spacecraft didn’t have the fuel to continue flight and engineers decided it was best to place it down on the dark side of the moon.
NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft slammed into the moon early Friday morning, as planned, but a few days earlier than NASA officials expected. At about 12:30 a.m. Eastern time, radio signals from the spacecraft abruptly cut off just as it passed over to the far side of the moon. Mission managers believe that is the moment when it ran into a crater rim — they suspect they even know which crater rim — but that has not been confirmed yet. The crash brought to a successful end a six-month, $280 million study of the tenuous envelope of gases and dust surrounding the moon. With impact at 3,600 miles per hour, the vending-machine-size spacecraft, called Ladee (pronounced LAD-ee), broke up into pieces that heated up to hundreds of degrees and partly vaporized. “It’s just a question of whether Ladee made a localized craterlet on a hillside or scattered debris across a flat area,” Richard C. Elphic, the project scientist, said in a NASA news release.