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Wednesday, 22 July 2009

image for Rocket Boosts Moon Into Circular Orbit
The Moon as seen during its waxing gibbous phase

The Moon, after being an elliptic orbit around Earth for 4.5 billion years, is now in a nearly perfect circular orbit around Earth, thanks to a massive rocket designed by NASA.

The rocket, launched earlier this year, completed a flawless burn at 0825 GMT this morning on the surface of the Moon while it was at its apogee, and left the celestial body in an orbit that keeps it at a near constant 384,400 kilometers from Earth for the next 9.7 billion years.

"I couldn't be more happy with the results," said Charles Bolden, administrator of NASA. "Once again our team has accomplished the impossible and has paved the way for future missions to the Moon."

Charles Elachi, from California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that the resulting orbit will make it much easier to design launch vehicles and spacecraft destined to the Moon. "It really takes a load off our mathematicians," said Elachi.

The task wasn't met without criticism, however. Astronomer James Dean of the University of Wisconsin claims that the new orbital period will require recalibration of countless software programs around the world, and will require new predictions and observation schedules to be made.

Experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, have warned that the resulting changes in ocean tides could wreak havoc across the globe. A preliminary study of the effects of the new orbit's effects on ocean tides is expected to be released later this month.

NASA has recently celebrated the anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission 40 years ago, and is planning future manned missions to the Moon.

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