THEMIS launch (2007)  (Source: NASA)
UC Berkeley researcher Jonathan Eastwood spoke with DailyTech regarding the current status of the NASA THEMIS mission

The NASA THEMIS satellite mission, which launched in 2007, is designed to let researchers to learn more about the causes of the aurora.  

Using five identical satellites that are in orbit around Earth, researchers are able to successfully measure the local magnetic field and properties of the particles trapped in the magnetic field.  The project, which was proposed to NASA by UC Berkeley -- with the satellites also built in Berkeley -- as UC Berkeley researchers maintain control of the satellites via radio satellite dish.

"Two of the five THEMIS probes are now on their way to the moon, for a new life studying the lunar environment!" exclaimed Jonathan Eastwood, UC, Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory Assistant Research Physicist.  "Although the two-year 'prime mission phase' of THEMIS is now over, three of the THEMIS probes, closest to the Earth, will continue to operate (for many years) collecting scientific data about the solar wind interaction, space weather, geomagnetic storms, etc."

In our brief interview, Eastwood added the following:  "However because of the vagaries of colestial mechanics, the outer two probes would encounter long eclipses in the shadow of the Earth, which they couldn't survive.  If nothing was done, they would be lost."  

Although there are concerns of fuel levels, researchers will have the probes utilize complex orbits that will involve flying them by the moon using Lagrange points to help reduce fuel consumption.  The Lagrange points are described as the location where gravity of two bodies balance -- i.e. the Earth and the Moon, or Sun and Earth, according to Eastwood.

Instead of launching a new mission, which would cost a significant amount -- along with time necessary to prep the new mission -- researchers decided to send the probes to the moon.  Dubbed 'ARTEMIS,' the two space probes will not arrive until fall 2010, despite first maneuvers taking place on July 20.  According to Eastwood, the two moon probes will conduct several flybys of the lunar surface later this year, then will go into orbit.

UC Berkeley and NASA researchers are looking forward to the information they can gather from the THEMIS mission, with a high-level of anticipation for future successes.

"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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