They've been dutifully circling the moon all this year, but the craft that make up NASA's GRAIL mission end with a flash today. Ebb and Flow, twin spacecraft the size of a washer and dryer, have been gathering data about gravity for a high-resolution map of the inside of the celestial body. The plan is for the robotic twins to hit the edge of a lunar crater and disintegrate as a separate orbiter records any data kicked up by the impact.
"They're going to have nearly empty fuel tanks so they're not going to make a big explosion," says MIT Geophysicist Maria Zuber, the project's lead investigator. "But any sort of impact like that provides the opportunity to learn something."
Like water vapor, maybe? Not likely, but they'll be looking. Now instead of targeting the collision, engineers could have just let the chips fall where they may. But Zumer says NASA made it clear: No hurting any valuable lunar real estate.
"Listen, I do not want to go down in history as a person who interfered with an Apollo site,"says Zuber.
Or Surveyor, Ranger, or Soviet Luna sites. Even though the moon will be up, scientists say any flash at 5:28 p.m. eastern, 2:28 p.m. Pacific, Monday will not be visible to the naked eye.
Every few years, the National Intelligence Council gathers experts to draw an official picture of the future, and the NIC has a new report full of predictions. One headline? Bionics. So what does this council think the year 2030 will look like?
"You basically won't be you any more according to the National Intelligence Council, you'll be some weird man-machine hybrid" says Noah Shachtman, a contributor to Wired who is also a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Schactman attended some of the meetings that contributed to the National Intelligence Council report. "You'll have fake limbs that will make you run faster, fake arms that'll make you lift highter, and a brain chip that will make you think faster and see further."
So, Six Million Dollar Man, or Iron Man?
"Probably more like Six Million Dollar Man," says Shachtman. "But they talk about both futures. Super suits, like Iron Man, and the more replacement part."
Think not only getting replacement limbs and other parts after accidents, but augmented reality for improvement's sake --beefed up sight abilities, super-human strength, et cetera. But will this stuff really come into focus in the next 20 years Shachtman is skeptical.
"I think a lot of these futurists really need to take a step back," he says. "If we've learned anything from the last 20 years, it's that some of the biggest technological advances are going to come from left field."