NASA launches lunar mission (video)
NASA launched its first moon shot in a decade Thursday, sending up two lunar spacecrafts atop an Atlas V rocket. The LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) and a crater observation spacecraft are unmanned scouts designed to lay the first groundwork for the space agency’s proposed 2020 return of astronauts to the moon.
NASA described the liftoff as “flawless” on its website. The rocket roared up from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:32 p.m. EDT, powered by two liquid-fueled engines and a pair of solid-fueled boosters.
The $500-million orbiter will spend the next year cruising just 31 miles above the lunar surface, mapping the moon in high resolution for future landing sites and to gather crucial data on the lunar environment that will help astronauts prepare for long-duration lunar expeditions.
The second mission will send a rocket stage crashing into the lunar surface to scour the resulting debris plume for evidence of water. NASA will scan the collision dust and debris for future study.
The spacecrafts should reach the moon in four to five days.
[Image via NASA]