Last week's explosion on the moon was far less impressive than most anticipated, but were expectations unfairly raised by NASA? Scientists consulted on the project suggest that they knew results would be underwhelming and invisible.
With the LCROSS mission failing to produce the expected eye-catching explosion on lunar impact, many were disappointed, but LCROSS team member Peter Schultz of Brown University wasn't one of them. In simulations before Friday's impact, he projected that debris would be sent flying at 30 degrees, instead of the suggested 45... making it less likely to catch sunlight and be visible.
Part of the problem may have been the size of the rocket, according to New Scientist's post mortem:
[T]he 10 metre-long rocket was expected to produce a crater only 20 to 30 m in diameter. That crater size is small enough for the shape and orientation of the rocket to have played a role in how the debris was ejected, confounding expectations.
Was the whole mission a mistake? According to Paul Spudis of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, it depends on what you believe the actual aim was:
LCROSS was not a sound strategy to pursue if your objective was to answer the question, is there water ice on the moon? ...Instead, [NASA] came up with a PR stunt, and it kind of backfired.
Was moon-smashing mission doomed from the start? [New Scientist]