The European Space Agency's (ESA) SMART-1 spacecraft is now in orbit around the Moon. SMART-1 is Europe's first mission to the Moon and the first of ESA's 'Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology.' When SMART-1 reaches its target, the craft will study key chemical elements on the lunar surface and answer many questions about the Moon's formation and mineralogical composition. SMART-1 is also testing a number of technologies important to the future of interplanetary spaceflight, such as ion propulsion techniques. Finally, SMART-1 will also determine whether or not water is present on the Moon's surface. If water exists on the Moon, it will be in the form of ice and located in regions that receive no direct sunlight.
Data from SMART-1 will help scientists better understand the Earth-Moon system and provide information that will aid in developing potential long-duration human missions to the Moon. Understanding how the Moon was formed can tell us a great deal about the history and evolution of our own planet. Developing a human presence on the Moon could be a stepping stone to further locations like Mars, and the technologies being tested aboard SMART-1 may help to make such missions possible.
NASA. November 2004.