For the past 40 years a mystery has plagued NASA scientists. It all started when Apollo astronauts on the Moon noticed something strange that kept happening in the atmosphere above the lunar surface just before sunrise — a mysterious, unexplainable glow kept appearing early each morning for a short time, and in all the years since, no one has been able to fully explain it. Beginning tonight, that mystery is on course to being solved when NASA launches its LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) moon dust mission from the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia. The LADEE probe will be sitting atop the brand new Minotaur V rocket, the debut mission for the Orbital Sciences Corp. booster.
Miriam Kramer of Space.com writes: “The $280 million LADEE mission is designed to investigate the mysteries of the moon’s thin atmosphere and dust. The lunar atmosphere is actually representative of the most common known type of atmosphere in the solar system. Some large asteroids, various moons of giant planets and other objects have atmospheres like that of the moon, making LADEE’s lunar science mission wide-reaching, NASA scientists have said. Scientists are hoping to use the probe to hunt for the source of a glow that Apollo astronauts saw on the moon’s horizon before sunrise. It’s possible that the ‘streamers’ of light seen by the astronauts could have been be caused by tiny particles of dust flying high in the moon’s atmosphere and LADEE will look into that hypothesis. LADEE will also be carrying a special communications demonstration to the moon. The spacecraft will use a laser communications device to possibly communicate with ground controllers at broadband speeds. This kind of communications test could help scientists and engineers develop new ways to communicate with spacecraft farther into deep space.”
This is the first time NASA will have launched a Moon mission this far north, and the launch will be a rare treat for fans of the space program living along the northeastern coast. From as far south as Charleston to as far north as Montreal, the LADEE launch will be visible tonight when it blasts off from the Virginia spaceport at 11:27pm EST. The weather forecast looks crystal clear, and there is a 95% chance the launch will take place.
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