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Remember the Time We Bombed the Moon?

Image: Mortar launcher placed by Apollo 16 astronauts in 1972 (NASA)

No, not a Hollywood movie. Humans actually did bomb the Moon. Twice, actually.

Astronauts aboard the Apollo 16 and 17 actually set off explosive devices on the lunar surface, as part of seismic experiments to determine the structure of the lunar regolith.

Erik Klemetti of Rocky Planet has the story:

... to get details about lunar subsurface structure, geologists needed more than just natural Moonquakes. That’s where the “active” seismic comes in. For the Apollo missions, a system was developed to set off small explosions directly into the ground to produce a “thump”. Then, geophones set up in a line on the Moon’s surface picked up information about the waves. Nineteen thumper explosions were set off by Apollo astronauts to help map the ground beneath the experiments set up near the lunar module.

However, we need to generate large explosions so we can “image” deeper into the lunar subsurface. To that end, a mortar was brought to the Moon by both Apollo 14 and 16 to fire rocket-propelled grenades over a kilometers from a seismic station set up by the astronauts (see below). The idea was to launch the mortar along an array of geophones to record the blasts and their resultant seismic waves and reflections over a wider area than the “thumper”.

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