India's first deep-space mission has chalked up another success during its glitch-free mission. Having maneuvered into its final orbit, 60 miles (100 km) above the Moon, the Chandrayaan spacecraft released an instrumented, 75-pound (34-kg) probe on November 14th that slammed into the lunar surface 25 minutes later.
We've been using the Moon for target practice for decades. Back in the 1960s, the sole objective of U.S. Rangers and some Soviet Lunas was simply to crash into it. Apollo missions routinely slammed discarded hardware into the surface at high speed to trigger measurable seismic shocks. More recently, in July 1999, NASA's Lunar Prospector struck the Moon and, in the process, delivered cremains of the legendary lunar geologist Gene Shoemaker.
Indian space scientists had more modest ambitions for Chandrayaan 1's MIP (Moon Impact Probe). It carried three instruments: a camera, radar altimeter, and mass spectrometer. The first two helped determine the craft's location and altitude during the brief descent; the mass spectrometer sampled the extremely tenuous wisps of gas that surround the Moon.
The MIP's sides were emblazoned with the tricolored Indian flag, and an online announcement from the Indian Space Research Organization noted that the impact occurred on Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s birthday.
Meanwhile, instruments on the main spacecraft (10 in all) are being tested and calibrated for what promises to be a scientifically productive two-year mission.