Moon launch will be first for Virginia NASA facility

Aug. 23, 2013 at 6:36 PM

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va., Aug. 23 (UPI) -- NASA says a moon probe set for launch next month will be the first launch beyond Earth orbit from the agency's Virginia Space Coast launch facility.

The automobile-sized Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer will lift off at 11:27 p.m. EDT Sept. 6 from the Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., the space agency reported Friday.

The robotic mission will orbit the moon to gather data on the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and determine whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky, scientists said.

"The moon's [type of] tenuous atmosphere may be more common in the solar system than we thought," John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for science in Washington, said. "Further understanding of the moon's atmosphere may also help us better understand our diverse solar system and its evolution."

The probe, the first spacecraft designed, developed and built at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., will launch on a U.S. Air Force Minotaur V rocket.

The Minotaur is a former ballistic missile converted into a space launch vehicle and operated by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va.

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