Naming contest adds to Moon mission's outreach to kids
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: October 3, 2011
NASA is calling upon schoolchildren around the U.S. to help name the twin Moon-bound GRAIL spacecraft that will unravel mysteries of the lunar interior.
"A NASA mission to the Moon is one of the reasons why I am a scientist today," said GRAIL Principal Investigator Maria Zuber from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "My hope is that GRAIL motivates young people today towards careers in science, math and technology. Getting involved with naming our two GRAIL spacecraft could inspire their interest not only in space exploration but in the sciences, and that's a good thing."
The mirror-image craft will bounce radio signals off each other to measure subtle changes in the distance between the two formation-flying satellites caused by the lunar gravity field, enabling scientists to deduce the Moon's origins and the composition of its interior structure.
NASA says the naming contest is open to students in kindergarten through 12th grade at schools in the United States and must be submitted by teachers using an online entry form. Length of submissions can range from a short paragraph to a 500-word essay.
The entry deadline is Nov. 11.
Contest rules and more information can be found at: http://grail.nasa.gov/contest.
Both satellites also carry cameras for the educational MoonKAM program led by Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. Students get to select areas of the Moon they want the cameras to capture.
"GRAIL is the first mission to fly an imaging system that does not have a scientific objective. MoonKAM is devoted entirely to education and outreach. The investigation is led by Sally Ride, who now dedicates her life to working with middle school students, particularly young women, but all students to raise their awareness and understanding on science, math and technology," said Zuber.
The equipment is like the rocket-mounted video cameras used to watch boosters and stages separate during launches. Now, they are part of the GRAIL spacecraft to provide an inexpensive way to image the Moon and spark the imagination in children.
"Middle school students will be able to log on, and if their school is registered in the program, the software is available to see where the GRAIL ground tracks will be passing over and students can target images of something they'd like to take a picture of and input that into the system. Then there is a mission operations center that Sally runs at the University of California-San Diego where college students run this," said Zuber.
"We takes as many of these images as our operations allow. But this is done in a completely non-interference basis with the gravity mission. In the gravity mission, the two spacecraft are just ranging to each other constantly, we don't move the spacecraft around. We just want to put them into orbit, let them fly and watch how they get perturbed by the Moon."
More information is available at the MoonKAM website.
From launch until the mission's ending, the GRAIL-A spacecraft is expected to travel 13.2 million miles and GRAIL-B some 12.8 million miles.
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