It’s amazing when you think about it. One might think that there is a new race to the Moon underway, this time with robotic spacecraft rather than astronauts and cosmonauts. There has been a small armada of space probes sent to the Moon by many different nations since the turn of the new millennium. Collectively, these spacecraft have revealed a much more interesting Moon than we thought was the case in the aftermath of the Apollo program of the 1960s and 1970s.
Using remote sensing technologies ranging from visible light imaging to spectroscopy to laser ranging these spacecraft have revolutionized knowledge of the Moon and made it once again a fascinating place to visit. Among other discoveries, these robotic explorers have shown Earth’s nearest neighbor as a place where ice may well exist. For example, in 2009 NASA’s LCROSS probe, the Lunar Crater Observing and Sensing Satellite, confirmed the existence of water in a cold, permanently dark crater at the south pole of the Moon. This was just the latest of three different spacecraft indicating ice in deep craters on the lunar surface.
The spacecraft flown to the Moon since 2000 are listed below, along with their sponsoring nation and their dates of operation. This list first appeared in the March 2013 issue of the Lunar and Planetary Information Bulletin.
Lunar Scientific Missions since 2000
|ESA||Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology-1 (SMART-1)||September 27, 2003||Ended with lunar surface impact on September 3, 2006|
|USA||Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun (ARTEMIS)||February 27, 2007||Extension of the THEMIS mission; ended in 2012|
|Japan||SELENE (Kaguya)||September 14, 2007||Ended with lunar surface impact on June 10, 2009|
|China||Chang’e-1||October 24, 2007||Taken out of orbit on March 1, 2009|
|India||Chandrayaan-1||October 22, 2008||Two-year mission; ended after 315 days due to malfunction and loss of contact|
|USA||Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)||June 18, 2009||Completed one-year primary mission; now in five-year extended mission|
|USA||Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS)||June 18, 2009||Ended with lunar surface impact on October 9, 2009|
|China||Chang’e-2||October 1, 2010||Primary mission lasted for six months; extended mission completed flyby of asteroid 4179 Toutatis in December 2012|
|USA||Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL)||September 10, 2011||Ended with lunar surface impact on December 17, 2012|