Wallops Island to launch rocket to moon

August 25, 2013

For the first time, a spacecraft is to be launched from Virginia to the moon.

The launch is scheduled for Sept. 6 from NASA’s facility at Wallops Island on Virginia’s Atlantic coast.

If all follows the plan, and the clouds cooperate, the 11:27 p.m. launch should be visible in Washington and in much of the Northeast.

The mission will not land on the moon, but it is intended to go into orbit around it.

The robotic mission is to collect detailed information about the moon’s thin atmosphere. Sometimes thought to be nonexistent, the lunar atmosphere has been described as extremely tenuous and fragile, but present.

According to the space agency, the launch will record many firsts. One will be the first launch beyond Earth orbit from the Virginia facility.

It also will be the first flight for the Minotaur V rocket, NASA said. NASA said the five-stage Air Force rocket is an excess ballistic missile that was transformed into a space-launch vehicle. It will boost the space probe into position for it to reach lunar orbit.

Illustrating the expansion of space-related activities in the Washington region, it will be operated by a Virginia corporation: Orbital Sciences of Dulles.

The probe that is to actually orbit the moon on a 100-day mission is the size of a small automobile, NASA said. Its name is the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, or LADEE.

Besides studying the lunar atmosphere, the mission is to find out whether dust is lofting from the lunar surface into the sky.

According to NASA, information about the moon’s atmosphere and about the behavior of lunar dust will contribute to the understanding of other celestial bodies, including Mercury, large asteroids and the moons of other planets.

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