Over 40 years after the first humans landed on the moon, NASA is bound for Earth's natural satellite once again. The LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) is set to launch tonight, Sept. 6, at 11:27 p.m. EDT from Wallops facility in Virginia. A stream of the event can be viewed below.
The spacecraft is on a mission to poke around the lunar atmosphere and investigate electrically charged dust that may reveal the chemical makeup of the moon's atmosphere.
LADEE will embark on a 160-day journey tonight, spending 30 days traveling to the moon, 30 days orbiting, and 100 days conducting scientific operations. Her overall goal is to increase our understanding of small planetary bodies, like Mars's Phobos and Deimos moons.
She's about the size of a Smart Car, holds the power of about five 60-watt light bulbs, and will be launched into orbit on the Minotaur V expendable launch system.
As the first spacecraft developed with Modular Common Spacecraft Bus architecture, all eyes will be on LADEE as she jets off into the sky tonight. The components were assembled in a way that allows for a "plug-and-play" approach to the manufacturing and assembly of the spacecraft, which was built with off-the-shelf products, allowing for a reduced cost.
To prepare LADEE for lift off, the Ames Research Center team mounted the spacecraft on a spin table and rotated the observatory at very high speeds (approximately 1 revolution per second) to test its balance. The team starts with balancing the observatory on its own, then added fuel, propellents, and explosives, and, finally, the rocket motor and nose cone.
Tune into the launch of NASA's latest robotic mission at www.ustream.tv/nasaedge or watch the embedded stream below.