NASA launching robotic explorer to moon

Updated: 2013-09-07 10:45


  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

NASA launching robotic explorer to moon

The small car-sized Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) is a robotic mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and determine whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky is pictured at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia September 5, 2013. NASA is making final preparations to launch the LADEE at 11:27 pm EDT September 6, 2013 [Photo/Agencies]

An unmanned rocket is scheduled to blast off late Friday night (11:27 pm EDT) from Virginia's Eastern Shore with a robotic explorer that will study the lunar atmosphere and dust.

Called LADEE (LA'-dee), the moon-orbiting craft will measure the thin lunar atmosphere.

Scientists want to learn the composition of the moon's ever-so-delicate atmosphere and how it might change over time. Another puzzle: whether dust actually levitates from the lunar surface.

Unlike the quick three-day Apollo flights to the moon, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE, will take a full month to get there. An Air Force Minotaur rocket, built by Orbital Sciences Corp, is providing the ride from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility.

It's the first moonshot from Virginia. All but one of NASA's approximately 40 moon missions, including the manned Apollo flights of the late 1960s and early 1970s, originated from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The most recent were the twin Grail spacecraft launched two years ago. The lone exception, Clementine, a military-NASA venture, rocketed away from Southern California in 1994.

The soaring Minotaur rocket should be visible along much of the East Coast — as far south as South Carolina, as far north as Maine and as far west as Pittsburgh.

The $280 million mission will last six months and end with a suicide plunge into the moon for LADEE, which is about the size of a small car.