Friday night marked the first time in over 40 years that NASA will launch a mission to the moon. This current mission will be different from the Apollo landings in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It will not be a manned mission, it will was launched from Virginia instead of Florida and will use the new Minotaur V rocket instead of the Saturn V that the Apollo missions used.
"For the first time in 40 years, we have the opportunity to address that mystery," project scientist Richard Elphic, with NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, said during a launch broadcast on NASA TV.
At 11:27 pm (EDT) Friday the Minotaur V lifted off carrying the LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer). It will take the Minotaur 30 days to delivery LADEE wher it will go into an orbit of 31 miles above the lunar surface. Once in orbit LADEE will carry out its two pronged mission of examining the dust that rises from the lunar surface and the gases that that surround our Moon.
"We're taught in grade school and probably junior high that the moon has no atmosphere," Elphic said. He later added, "Indeed it does have an atmosphere, but it's utterly unlike our own atmosphere. It's very tenuous”.
Since the Minotaur rockets are made using decommissioned components from old peacekeeper and minuteman ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) the the arms control agreement between the Unite States and Russia would not allow NASA to launch from its usual site of Cape Canaveral, Florida. As an alternative to that site NASA had to turn to their Wallops Island Flight Facility off of the coast of Virginia.
“Godspeed on your journey to the moon, LADEE,” Launch Control said. Flight controllers applauded and exchanged high-fives following the successful launch. “We are headed to the moon!” NASA said in a tweet.
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