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NASA Prepares For Mission Back To The Moon

posted 22 Aug 2013, 17:00 by Mpelembe   [ updated 22 Aug 2013, 17:01 ]

NASA prepares for mission to study lunar atmosphere.

WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES (AUGUST 22, 2013) (NASA TV) -  NASA announced final preparations on Thursday (August 19) for the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission which is set to launch to the moon in early September 13 from Wallops Flight Facility on the eastern shore of Virginia.

"Once in orbit LADEE will orbit the moon in a lunar, equatorial orbit to measure what the atmosphere is made up of and how that varies over time. It was also try to understand whether or not the dust is levitated from the surface," LADEE program executive Joan Salute said.

The 844-pound (383 kilograms) craft, roughly the size of a small car, is designed to orbit the moon measuring the lunar atmospheric conditions before lowering to investigate lunar dust. Scientists are looking for detailed information about the structure and composition of the lunar atmosphere and conditions near the moon's surface.

The moon has a very thin atmosphere called a "Surface Boundary Exosphere" that doesn't stop the moon from getting bombarded by meteorites and micrometeorites that break rocks in finer and finer particles.

NASA hopes to find out if those particles create a mysterious spread of light above the horizon that Apollo astronauts tried to describe in pictures as rays of light against otherwise black skies. NASA wants to know whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky to cause the phenomenon.

NASA Scientists also say understanding the characteristics of moon's surface boundary exosphere and lunar dust will help researchers understand other bodies in the solar system, such as large asteroids, Mercury, and the moons of outer planets.

"Being able to compare what's at the surface to what is the atmosphere at the moon will actually help us work our way back to Mercury and understand what we're seeing in the atmosphere to what might be on the ground there so we're actually going to learn about Mercury even from this lunar mission," said LADEE Program Scientist Sarah Noble.

In addition to the data from the moon the mission will test a new high-data-rate laser communication system that NASA hope will replace the current radio communications systems the space agency currently uses.

"I think there's no question as we send humans out further in the solar system, certainly to Mars, that if we want to hi-def, 3D video we're going to have lasercom sending that info back," said NASA associate administrator John Grunsfeld.