Basically the idea was to crash a rocket into Luna and then another rocket following behind would scan the debris cloud raised from the explosion for water particles. If any were found, it would massively improve the chances of a moonbase being built at some point in the future.
So far, so in line with what my nine-year-old son Izaak would say if I asked him how to find stuff out about the Moon.
But watching the feed of the LCROSS rocket hitting home was totally meh, because while I expected a massive plume of dust and rocks, an explosion at least, what I got was … nothing.
This was a two-tonne Centaur rocket, but it might as well have been made from a $79million model kit for all the difference it made. The view from the following rocket was disappointing too – not so much Major Kong heading through a cloud of boulders and moonrocks as an indistinct grey blur getting closer, slowly.
But worse – far, far worse – was the glimpse behind the curtain into ‘mission control’ itself.
If I have learned anything from films about space – AND I HAVE – it is that mission control is a massive room with loads of computer monitors and other gizmos, where middle aged men wearing headsets say things like ‘that’s a go for re-entry’ and ‘Flight affirmitive’ and so on, in front of giant TV screens.
While the commentary was still the same, what I got to look at was a drab broom cupboard with people who looked like anyone in any office anywhere, using laptops. One of them then buggered off as soon as the rocket touched down.
Talk about a let down!
OK, so the experiment has been dismissed as a waste of time because the debris cloud was not big enough and hitting one bit of the moon with a rocket tells you nothing about the rest of it (and that’s a pretty big it) and shooting a rocket into something is not very, erm, scientific.
But for something which people have now dismissed as a PR stunt, wiping away the veneer of Hollywood glamour we automatically add to anything Nasa does may be the most damaging result of all.