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Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Space race

5, 4, 3, 2, 1...NASA launches its latest mission to the Moon

The robotic mission will collect information about the lunar atmosphere and surface to help scientists with their moondust problems.

(YouTube: NASATelevision)

NASA HAS LAUNCHED its latest mission into outer space – an unmanned probe to the Moon.

The agency’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) was successfully launched this morning at 4.27am (Irish time) from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

It is due to arrive at the Moon in 30 days time.

There was a slight issue during technical checkouts today which could delay the process for a couple of days, team members said, but they are not worried.

“The LADEE spacecraft is working as it was designed to under these conditions – there’s no indication of anything wrong with the reaction wheels or spacecraft,” explained S. Pete Worden, Ames centre director.

“The LADEE spacecraft is communicating and is very robust. The mission team has ample time to resolve this issue before the spacecraft reaches lunar orbit. We don’t have to do anything in a rush.

“This is not an unusual event in spacecraft,” he added. “We plan in the next few days to complete spacecraft checkout.”

What will LADEE do?

The robotic mission will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust.

Moondust can often behave somewhat oddly, appearing to levitate above the surface on some occasions, and having a negative impact on sensitive spacecraft and equipment. Researchers want to know why.

“If we were ever to go there with people for long duration, the dust gets in everything. It’s not smooth dust like a piece of sand on the beach. It’s made of very, very small fragments,” said expert John Logsdon, a NASA adviser and former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.

All the Apollo crews complained about the lunar dust getting everywhere.

According to NASA, “A thorough understanding of these characteristics will address long-standing unknowns, and help scientists understand other planetary bodies as well”.

The estimated cost of the craft was $280 million. It is solar and lithium battery-powered and is about eight tall and five feet wide.

Additional reporting by AFP

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Read: The new space race, and the startups looking to profit from it

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