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Ebb And Flow: Montana Students Help NASA Rename Twin 'GRAIL' Moon Spacecraft

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Using a precision formation-flying technique, the twin GRAIL spacecraft will map the moon's gravity field, as depicted in this artist's rendering. detail. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Using a precision formation-flying technique, the twin GRAIL spacecraft will map the moon's gravity field, as depicted in this artist's rendering. detail. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA may have been able to send a man to the moon and a car-sized rover to Mars, but when it came to naming their new Lunar probes, they had to turn to some savvy fourth graders for help.

Seeking new monikers for their twin GRAIL spacecraft, two probes currently mapping the gravity of the moon, NASA crowd-sourced the naming process with a contest open to American elementary school students.

The winning names, Ebb and Flow, were chosen by 28 students in teacher Nina DiMauro's fourth grade class at the Emily Dickinson Elementary School in Bozeman, Montana.

Maria Zuber, GRAIL principal investigator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., said in a statement that the students "really hit the nail on the head."

"We were really impressed that the students drew their inspiration by researching GRAIL and its goal of measuring gravity," Zuber said. "Ebb and Flow truly capture the spirit and excitement of our mission."

Originally named using the acronym for Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory, the GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B spacecrafts were launched in September, 2011. After a 2 1/2 million mile journey, the probes began orbiting the moon over the New Year's weekend.

"We were so busy in the design and getting these two spacecraft launched on time that when we gave them names, we gave them names of A and B, and that isn't too creative," Zuber said, according to AFP. "So we asked the youth of America to assist us."

From the Associated Press:

Scientists expect to learn more about how the celestial body formed using Grail's gravity measurements that will indicate what's below the surface.

...

Previous spacecraft have attempted to study the moon's gravity -- about one-sixth Earth's pull -- with mixed success. Grail was expected to give scientists the most detailed maps of the moon's uneven gravitational field and insight into its interior down to the core.

According to NASA, over 11,000 students in more than 900 classrooms across the United States and Puerto Rico submitted their ideas for new names.

For coming up with the winning names, the fourth grade class at Emily Dickinson Elementary School will get to select the first images from the probes' cameras for MoonKAM, an educational outreach program designed for middle school students.

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