Like many, I was up bright and early last Friday morning to watch the live coverage of the LCROSS impact into the shadows of the Moon’s south polar region. While the complete fizzle of the impact probably should not have been a surprise to me, it was certainly a disappointment to countless people whose expectations had been unreasonably heightened. The purpose of the impact, of course, was not to make a cosmic fireworks display, but to determine the abundance of water ice near the surface in the permanently shadowed craters near the Moon’s south pole. Whether it met that goal will become clear in the days and weeks ahead. Science usually moves forward gradually. Eureka moments usually take some time for to confirm and validate. There are the occasional moments in space exploration, however, when something definitive happens, when there is an EVENT. Given the realities of the 24-hour news cycle, NASA usually seizes on the opportunities provided by these events (the launch of a rocket, the arrival of a spacecraft at another planet) to get some air time with the public. But they risk losing the attention of that public if they don’t learn to be more careful about managing expectations.
Planetary Scientist and Asst. Professor of Physics at University of Central Florida; Movie Buff; Trekkie; Jethro Tull fanatic; part-time actor, piano player, writer; and full-time husband and father. View all posts by JC