NASA's moon-orbiting robot crashes down

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA's small moon-orbiting spacecraft LADEE is no more. Flight controllers confirmed early Friday that LADEE crashed into the back side of the moon, as planned.

Researchers believe the robotic explorer vaporized upon contact because of its high orbiting speed of 3,600 mph, possibly smacking into a mountain or side of a crater. As of late Thursday afternoon, the spacecraft was flying 300 feet above the lunar surface. Its altitude had been lowered on purpose to ensure a crash by Monday.

LADEE — short for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer — was launched in September. It completed its main science mission last month and was on overtime.

The goal of LADEE was to learn the composition of the moon's ever-so-delicate atmosphere and how it might change over time. Another puzzle, dating back decades, is whether dust actually levitates from the lunar surface.

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