CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA is headed back to the moon to explore its thin atmosphere and rough dust.
The robotic spacecraft LADEE will fly to the moon from Virginia's eastern shore. Liftoff is set for 11:27 tonight from Wallops Flight Facility.
The soaring Minotaur rocket should be visible along much of the East Coast -- as far south as South Carolina, as far north as Maine and as far west as Pittsburgh. Local observers with a clear horizon should look to the southeast. The spacecraft may be seen after liftoff, but close to the horizon.
LADEE -- or Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer -- will be the first spacecraft launched from Wallops and the first moonshot from Virginia.
The unmanned Minotaur rocket consists of converted intercontinental ballistic missile motors. A U.S.-Russia treaty specifies acceptable launch sites for those, and Wallops is one.
All but one of about 40 NASA moon missions launched from Cape Canaveral. The one exception, a 1994 military-NASA venture, left Southern California.
Scientists for the $280 million mission want to examine the moon's extremely thin atmosphere. It will last six months and end with a suicide plunge into the moon. NASA is inviting amateur astronomers to keep an eye out for any meteoric impacts on the moon once LADEE arrives there Oct. 6.
First Published September 6, 2013 4:00 AM