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Students Explore the Moon in NASA's GRAIL Mission

Video taken of the far side of the moon by NASA's Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission will be used in classroom's across the country with footage taken by MoonKAM ("Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students") cameras.

The video was recorded Jan. 19 as a test from aboard the Ebb spacecraft that is part of the mission and shows the moon's north pole as the craft flies toward the south pole of the moon.

The mission is NASA's first to carry instrumentation that is fully dedicated to the goals of education and public outreach.

With the GRAIL mission, students in the fourth through eighth grades get to select areas of the moon to target for study with imagery then beamed back to the students. Leadership for the mission is provided by Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, and her team at Sally Ride Science with support from undergraduate students at the University of California, San Diego.

During the 30-second clip, the 560-mile-wide impact basin known as Mare Orientale is visible with rugged terrain just shy of the south pole appearing near the end of the video. Also visible is the Drygalski crater, a feature believed to have been created billions of years ago by a comet or asteroid striking the moon.

Ebb is one of two spacecraft making up the mission along with a second spacecraft, Flow, with each equipped with a MoonKAM camera. Known originally as GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B, the spacecraft were given their new names by fourth grade students at Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Bozeman, MT, after a nationwide contest to name the spacecraft.

The two spacecraft, which were built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, have been orbiting the moon since New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, respectively, following their launch in September 2011. The orbital paths of the two spacecraft will become progressively lower as time goes on with the two spacecraft eventually reaching an orbital altitude of 34 miles, according to information provided by NASA.

With the successful test of Ebb's MoonKAM, Flow's MoonKAM will be tested at a later date.

"The quality of the video is excellent and should energize our MoonKAM students as they prepare to explore the moon," said Maria Zuber, GRAIL principal investigator from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

The program is expected to draw participations by thousands of students across the country.

"We have had great response from schools around the country; more than 2,500 signed up to participate so far," Ride said. "In mid-March, the first pictures of the moon will be taken by students using MoonKAM. I expect this will excite many students about possible careers in science and engineering."

The mission is being managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington as part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL.

The video taken by the MoonKAM camera is available at go.nasa.gov/zZXAPs.

More information about the GRAIL mission is available at nasa.gov/grail, and information about MoonKAM can be found at moonkam.ucsd.edu.

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