The Lunar Prospector spacecraft maneuvered into orbit around the moon on Sunday, getting set for a high-altitude scientific study beginning later in the week.
“Everything’s working just as it had in our simulations,” said Scott Hubbard, mission manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center.
Prospector carries instruments that will search from above for evidence of frozen water at the moon’s shadowy poles, as well signs of minerals and gases. The 4-foot-long, 650-pound spacecraft was launched Jan. 6 from Florida on an Athena rocket. Its $65 million, year-long mission: to map the moon’s surface to determine its composition and its gravitational and magnetic fields.
Scientists expect to begin collecting scientific data as soon as Prospector settles into a 60-mile-high polar orbit sometime Tuesday.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration last explored the moon in December 1972 with Apollo 17, which was piloted by astronauts.