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NASA’s LCROSS Wins Swigert Award

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
March 7, 2010
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The mission that definitively proved the presence of water on the Moon has been selected as the 2010 recipient of the Space Foundation’s John L. “Jack” Swigert, Jr., Award for Space Exploration. The Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission will be honored April 12 during the 26th National Space Symposium Opening Ceremony, sponsored by Northrop Grumman, at The Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Managed and operated by NASA Ames Research Center working in conjunction with spacecraft and integration partner Northrop Grumman and launch partner United Launch Alliance, LCROSS sought to confirm the presence of water ice in a permanently shadowed crater near a lunar polar region. Concentrated hydrogen signatures had been detected in that area in 1999 by NASA’s Lunar Prospector. LCROSS employed the unusual technique of crashing a spacecraft into the Moon in order to observe and analyze the resulting debris plume created by the impact.

“For decades, scientists believed the Moon to be dry and devoid of life,” said Space Foundation Chief Executive Officer Elliot Pulham. “But, now, thanks to LCROSS, we have a completely different perspective – one that could lead to further exploration and discovery.”

Pulham said that the confirmation of water ice was part of the reason LCROSS was selected for the Swigert Award, but not the entire rationale. “We were impressed with the way LCROSS leveraged both civil and commercial assets into a relatively low-cost, fast-turnaround project. Big bang – both figuratively and literally – for relatively little bucks.”

About the LCROSS Mission

Launched together with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) aboard an Atlas V rocket in June 2009, LCROSS was part of the Lunar Precursor Robotic Program, one of the first American missions to the Moon in over ten years. Holding on to a Centaur upper stage booster rocket, the LCROSS shepherding spacecraft orbited the Earth and Moon for several months to achieve the mission’s optimal impact angle, which was important to accomplish the largest debris plume possible. Plus, the long orbit depleted the spacecraft’s fuel supply to prevent lunar contamination. On Oct. 9, 2009, the Centaur rocket separated from the LCROSS sheparding spacecraft and crashed into the Cabeus crater near the south pole of the Moon. Following four minutes behind the Centaur, the LCROSS shepherding spacecraft passed through the resulting debris plume, collecting and relaying data until it also crashed into the crater.

Using spectrometers, cameras, and a radiometer, LCROSS captured data of the debris plume as it encountered sunlight, which causes water-ice, hydrocarbons, or organics to vaporize and break down into their basic components. In November 2009, NASA scientists confirmed that the plume did, indeed, contain water ice – in larger amounts than originally suspected. This is an important finding that could influence future lunar exploration.

About the Award

The John L. “Jack” Swigert, Jr., Award for Space Exploration honors astronaut Jack Swigert, a Colorado native who served with retired U.S. Navy Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., and Fred Haise on the legendary Apollo 13 lunar mission, which was aborted en route to the Moon after the perilous rupture of an oxygen tank. People around the world watched as NASA overcame tremendous odds to return the crew safely to Earth. Before joining the Apollo program, Swigert was a combat pilot for the U.S. Air Force in Japan and Korea and an engineering test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc., and Pratt and Whitney. In 1982, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, but died of cancer before taking the oath of office.

The Space Foundation, founded in 1983 in part to honor Swigert’s memory, created the Swigert Award in 2004 in tribute to his lasting legacy of space exploration. Previous recipients include NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander Team, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), The California Institute of Technology, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s Mars Exploration Team from JPL, and President George W. Bush.

About the 26th National Space Symposium

The 26th National Space Symposium offers workshops, forums, panels, and presentations covering all aspects of space. This includes the Congressional Luncheon; Corporate Partnership Dinner; the General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award Luncheon; and the Space Technology Hall of Fame® Dinner, which honors technologies, organizations, and individuals for transforming space technology into commercial products that improve life on Earth. The Symposium also includes engaging programs for selected teachers and students, and the extensive AMERICOM Government Services (AGS) Exhibit Center.

The National Space Symposium’s top allure to attendees, exhibitors, sponsors, and speakers – of which there were nearly 8,000 in 2009 – is as a venue for networking and conducting meaningful business. In addition to the mainstream program, the 26th edition will include a new component on cyberspace, Cyber 1.0, and greatly expanded programs for young, up-and-coming “new generation” space professionals.