News & CommentPlanetary Science

The Short Life of a Spacecraft

Science  13 Mar 1998:
Vol. 279, Issue 5357, pp. 1628
DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5357.1628b

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In these cost-conscious days, NASA missions are supposed to be not only "faster, cheaper, better" but also shorter. For the Lunar Prospector--at $63 million, the cheapest of the cheap--the clock will run out within 18 months, after the craft is sent into a lower and increasingly unstable orbit, ending in a final, suicidal crash onto the lunar surface.