Lunar Prospector spacecraft

Lunar Prospector spacecraft

Courtesy of NASA

The mission for Lunar Prospector focused on mapping the Moon’s surface and looking for evidence of water ice. The spacecraft orbited the Moon for several months, and then it deliberately crash landed into the lunar south pole to see if it could detect any evidence of ice. The probe carried a small amount of the remains of lunar geologist, Eugene Shoemaker. This was a low-cost program as the small craft (weighed only 295 kg) was built from “off-the-shelf,” flight-proven hardware. The program came together quickly, being developed in only 22 months.

January 7, 1998

January 11, 1998

End of Mission
July 31, 1999

Use a gamma-ray spectrometer to detect suspected water ice buried inside the lunar crust. Detect other natural resources, minerals, and gases that could be used to build and sustain a human lunar base or in manufacturing fuel for launching spacecraft from the Moon to the rest of the solar system.

On January 11, 1998, Lunar Prospector entered into lunar orbit and began mapping the Moon. The spectrometer scanned the Moon’s surface for hydrogen-rich minerals. Polar craters yielded an intriguing signal: neutron ratios indicated hydrogen. Many scientists believe this is evidence of possible water (H2O) on the Moon.

As scheduled, on July 31, 1999, the probe crashed into the Moon to gather evidence for the presence of water ice in the impact area. None was found.