- uploaded: Dec 6, 2012
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Launched on September 10, 2011, the Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission will create the most accurate gravitational map of the Moon to date, improving our knowledge of near-side gravity by 100 times and of far-side gravity by 1000 times. The high-resolution gravitational field, especially when combined with a comparable-resolution topographical field, will enable scientists to deduce the Moon's interior structure and composition, and to gain insights into its thermal evolution--that is, the history of the Moon's heating and cooling, which opens the door to understanding its origin and development. Accurate knowledge of the gravity will also be an invaluable navigational aid to future lunar spacecraft. Ultimately, the information contributed by the GRAIL mission will increase our knowledge of how Earth and its rocky neighbors in the inner solar system developed into the diverse worlds we see today.
In the course of the mission, GRAIL will conduct two important firsts. This will be the first time any space agency has attempted the complex set of maneuvers required to place two robotic spacecraft into the same precise orbit around a planetary body other than Earth so that they can fly in formation. And it will also be the first time a NASA planetary mission has carried an imager specifically for the purpose of education and public outreach: the MoonKAM cameras whose photographic targets will be chosen by middle school students under the auspices of Sally Ride Science.