Today, NASA announced the winner of a student contest to name the twin moon-orbiting GRAIL spacecraft, which reached lunar orbit the first weekend of 2012. The new names of the two spacecraft are “Ebb” and “Flow.” The names were offered by fourth grade students in Bozeman, Montana, who were selected as the winners of NASA’s naming contest.
The nationwide contest, which began in October, received entries from 11,000 students from 900 schools in 45 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. NASA has frequently hosted contests for students to name missions in an effort to promote outreach. In 2009 the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover gained its name from then 12-year-old Clara Ma, a sixth-grader at Sunflower Elementary School in Lenexa, Kan. Its predecessors Spirit and Opportunity were both named in 2003 by then 9-year-old Sofi Collis.
The GRAIL mission, which stands for Gravity Recover and Interior Laboratory, consists of two spacecrafts, GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B, orbiting the moon in tandem. As they pass over the lunar surface, the moon’s gravitational pull varies slightly with features both above and below ground. This changes the distance between the two crafts, and by communicating through radio signals, scientists can read the variations in distances and create a detailed map of the moon’s gravitational field, which will help them understand how the moon and our own planet were formed.