For NASA Spacecraft Launching Friday, It's 'Destination: Moon'

LADEE Ready for Launch
NASA is making final preparations to launch the lunar LADEE probe at 11:27 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 6, from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va. Image released Sept. 5, 2013. (Image credit: NASA)

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — NASA's newest space probe has its eye on the moon, and the weather couldn't look finer for the planned Friday night launch. In a twist, NASA is launching this new moon shot from Virginia to investigate a long-standing mystery behind lunar dust.

NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft is slated to launch toward the moon Friday, Sept. 6, at 11:27 p.m. EDT (0327 Sept. 7 GMT). The mission will blast off atop a brand-new Minotaur V rocket, the debut mission for the Orbital Sciences Corp. booster.  

Weather forecasts look pristine for the Friday night launch, NASA officials said. There is a near-perfect 95 percent chance of good weather over the launch pad here at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., they added. Depending on local weather conditions, the nighttime launch could be visible to millions of observers up and down the U.S. East Coast. [How to Watch NASA's LADEE Mission Launch Friday]

An artist's concept of NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft orbiting the moon and preparing to fire its maneuvering thrusters to maintain a safe orbital altitude. Image released August 15, 2013. (Image credit: NASA Ames/Dana Berry)

"It's looking like mostly clear skies, visibility is going to be great," Sarah Dougherty, NASA test director for the LADEE launch told reporters here today (Sept. 5). "All systems are go and the weather is looking good, so [we're] hopeful for a great launch tomorrow night."

You can watch the LADEE launch live on beginning at 9:30 p.m. EDT (0130 GMT), courtesy of NASA TV.

NASA is launching LADEE from Pad 0B of Virginia's Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, which is located on the agency's Wallops Flight Facility. It's the first time a moon mission has ever launched from spaceport, but the site was optimum for LADEE's intended spaceflight, NASA officials have said. If LADEE is unable to lift off Friday, the mission has backup launch opportunities between Sept. 7 and10, according to NASA officials.

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer will uncover details of the moon's thin atmosphere. See the full LADEE moon dust infographic here. (Image credit: by Karl Tate, Infographics Artist)

A moon mystery to solve

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.

See the launch

Virginia skywatchers can view the LADEE launch Friday from two locations near NASA's Wallops Flight Facility: Beach Road between Chincoteague and Assateague Islands or Robert Reed Park on Chincoteague.

Observers outside of Virginia's Eastern Shore can may still be able to see the launch if weather permits. If you are located on the East Coast of the United States, use LADEE launch sky maps to track and possibly see the rocket as it launches into space. partner Spaceflight Now is also providing blow-by-blow coverage of LADEE's mission via the Mission Status Center, which will also include a launch webcast feed.

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Miriam Kramer
Staff Writer

Miriam Kramer joined as a Staff Writer in December 2012. Since then, she has floated in weightlessness on a zero-gravity flight, felt the pull of 4-Gs in a trainer aircraft and watched rockets soar into space from Florida and Virginia. She also served as's lead space entertainment reporter, and enjoys all aspects of space news, astronomy and commercial spaceflight.  Miriam has also presented space stories during live interviews with Fox News and other TV and radio outlets. She originally hails from Knoxville, Tennessee where she and her family would take trips to dark spots on the outskirts of town to watch meteor showers every year. She loves to travel and one day hopes to see the northern lights in person. Miriam is currently a space reporter with Axios, writing the Axios Space newsletter. You can follow Miriam on Twitter.