Many space missions recently have been developed that have purposefully, or involuntarily, involved the moon. For example, the orbit of the moon has just been crossed by an Indian spacecraft on its way towards mars. It has become the farthest object to have ever been sent by India into interplanetary space.
The moon is the earth’s only natural satellite. It is the fifth largest natural satellite in the solar system, and around 384,400 km away – the largest being Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter. It is also the easiest celestial object to observe in the evening sky when it is present.
Reports from Indian Space Research Organization stated that “The Mars Orbiter has crossed the distance of moon’s orbit,” and that it will achieve the title of the spacecraft that has traveled the longest distance from their organization.
The orbiter was released from the earth’s gravity on a mission to Mars, however it was thrown into outer space when its engine fired for 22 minutes, during the crucial trans-Mars injection.
The orbiter traveled at 32 km per second in the 680-million km solar orbit. It crossed over the moon’s orbit, where India’s moon craft orbited in previous years. However, this spacecraft will have traveled a distance of 536,000 Km from earth by 5 pm on Monday.
The orbit is reported to be on course and “cruising to escape the earth’s sphere of influence.” Scientists are monitoring the spacecraft and it’s movement in the sun-synchronous orbit. They are also keeping track of subsystems.
For the Indian spacecraft to cross the moon’s orbit was greatly unexpected. The moon has been the subject of many discussions lately as moon missions are developing; the most intriguing being that NASA is hoping to put a garden on the moon.
The Lunar Plant Growth Habitat project is hoping to put some basil, flowers and turnips on the moon in 2015. However, this will not be the typical patch in the bottom of the garden.
When the garden settles on the moon, it will automatically activate a small reservoir, which will squirt water onto a nutrient-rich filter paper. The liquefied nutrients will drip down to the seeds, which will prompt the seeds growth. NASA plan to monitor the seeds’ progression in order to see what happens to plans when they grow with less gravity and heightened radiation.
China had also recently launched a rocket with a moon rover attached, in order to further their progression towards sending a person to the moon. If the mission does succeed, they will become the third country to land on the moon, behind the United States and Russia. Their exploration, however, is not solely based on the moon. They are also hoping to explore deep space.
Moon phases and the moon’s orbit continue to remain mysterious to many because it takes 27.3 days, for it to rotate on its axis and orbit the Earth. This means the moon will always exhibit the same face. It is only even possible to observe the moon because of reflected sunlight, which depends upon its correlation to the Earth and the sun.
As space investigations, like India’s mission to mars, lead to close contact with the moon, it only makes many wonder about the things unknown about space. It will be interesting to see the developments of China’s and NASA’s studies.
By Melissa McDonald