NASA announces winners of student contest to name GRAIL spacecraft

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.

Using a precision formation-flying technique, the twin GRAIL spacecraft will map the moon’s gravity field, as depicted in this artist’s rendering. Radio signals traveling between the two spacecraft provide scientists the exact measurements required as well as flow of information not interrupted when the spacecraft are at the lunar farside, not seen from Earth. The result should be the most accurate gravity map of the moon ever made. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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.

January 17, 2012

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Laura Dattaro

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