NASA Launches First Probe To Moon From Virginia Facility


ladee-lunar-surface-illustration

In demonstrating that NASA is far from grounded, the Space Agency has successfully launched a small car sized probe to measure the atmosphere surrounding the moon.  It marks the first time NASA has launched a spacecraft beyond Earth orbit from the Wallops Island, Virginia facility. According to the NASA, “the 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.”  It continues, “A thorough understanding of these characteristics of our nearest celestial neighbor will help researchers understand other bodies in the solar system, such as large asteroids, Mercury, and the moons of outer planets.”  All of this research will eventually be used, “in understanding our diverse solar system and its evolution,” according to John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science in Washington.  LADEE uses Modular Common Spacecraft Bus architecture designed, developed and tested at Ames Research Center in California.  It’s a “general purpose spacecraft design that allows NASA to develop, assemble and test multiple modules at the same time.”  The spacecraft is being launched by a converted U.S. Air Force Minotaur V rocket, an excess ballistic missile.  Using rockets slated for other purposes, such as missiles, saves time and money. Thirty days after the launch the spacecraft will begin a 40-day commissioning phase that will test its performance high above the moon’s atmosphere.  When it finally begins it’s 100-day science phase, it will use three instruments  “to determine the composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and remotely sense lofted dust, measure variations in the chemical composition of the atmosphere, and collect and analyze samples of any lunar dust particles in the atmosphere.” Using these instruments, scientists hope to address whether lunar dust, electrically charged by sunlight, was responsible for the pre-sunrise glow above the lunar horizon detected during several Apollo missions?  Ames is serving as the base of mission operations and will control the spacecraft and manage the overall mission.

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