Secrets long held by the moon are spilling out. Ebb and Flow discovered that the lunar crust is much thinner than scientists had imagined. And it was severely battered by asteroids and comets in the early years of the solar system — more than previously realized.
Data so far also appeared to quash the theory that Earth once had two moons that collided and melded into the one we see today.
Besides a scientific return, the mission allowed students to take their own pictures of craters and other lunar features as part of collaboration with a science education company founded by Ride, who died in July of pancreatic cancer at age. About 3,600 classrooms around the world participated, sending back 114,000 photos.
Scientists expect to sift through data and images from the $487 million mission for years.
Obtaining precise gravity calculations required the twins to circle low over the moon, which consumes a lot of fuel. During the primary mission, they flew about 35 miles above the lunar surface. After getting bonus data-collecting time, they lowered their altitude to 14 miles above the surface.
With their fuel tanks almost on empty, NASA devised a controlled crash to avoid contacting any of the treasured sites on the moon. Mission controllers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory applauded when they lost signal, one of the rare celebrations of a spacecraft's demise.
Mission chief scientist Maria Zuber approached Ride's family about a month ago about naming the impact site. Zuber said she will also petition the International Astronomical Union to name mountain after the late astronaut as well.
“We looked very hard to find a very prominent feature on the near side of the moon that didn't have a name,” said Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.