Eugene is the Man on the Moon
The crash of Lunar Prospector finds a quiet burial ground for astronomer Eugene Shoemaker. A small vial of Shoemaker's ashes was loaded aboard Lunar Prospector, and now rests with the craft on the surface of the moon. He is the first person to be buried on another planet.
He more or less single-handedly created the field of impacts, and he was the one who started bringing to other scientists' and the public's attention the danger of the impacts of comets and asteroids on the Earth.
Mr. Shoemaker was involved in several U.S. space missions, including the Apollo missions -- he taught the astronauts about craters before they left Earth. He and his wife Carolyn also discovered about 800 asteroids and 20 comets -- including the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet that crashed into Jupiter in 1994.
Shoemaker was killed in a car crash in 1997, during an annual trip to Australia in search for asteroid craters. He was 69.
"I don't think Gene ever dreamed his ashes would go to the Moon," Carolyn Shoemaker said shortly before watching Lunar prospector blast-off in January 1998. "He would be thrilled."
"This is so important to us. It brings us a little closure, in a way, to our feelings. We will always know when we look at the moon, that Gene is there."
The polycarbonate capsule containing some of his ashes is one-and-three-quarters inches long and seventh-tenths inch in diameter, is carried in a vacuum-sealed, flight-tested aluminum sleeve mounted deep inside the spacecraft.
And, when he shall die,
Lunar Prospector was launched on January 6, 1998, heading for orbit around the moon. The spacecraft has already provided Nasa geeks with global maps of the moon's gravitational and magnetic fields, and a better understanding of the composition of the rocky neighbor of the Earth.
Last year, scientists found traces of moon water ice lurking in a perpetually dark crater at the Moon's south pole. Those findings led to the decision to crash the spacecraft into the crater, in an attempt to generate a plume from the impact.
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