NASA ‘Excited to See Their Baby Fly’ As Space Agency Prepares For Robotic Moon Mission
(CNSNews.com) – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is preparing to launch a robotic mission to the moon next month, nine months after the space agency ended its manned lunar program.
“You have a lot of people with their fingers crossed really hoping for the best and excited to see their baby fly,” project manager Butler Hine said at a NASA panel briefing Thursday.
“LADEE is the first moon launch from Wallops Flight Facility and the first launch of Orbital Science Corporation’s Minotaur V rocket,” according to a NASA webpage.
NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility has launched rockets since 1945, according to launch manager Doug Voss. However, “none of those flights have ever left Earth’s orbit. So LADEE is a historic moment.”
The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) “will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust.”
The moon launch is scheduled for Friday, September 6 at 11:27 p.m. from the Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The mission, which is designed to take 100 days, will be “limited by how much fuel we have,” Hine said.
Last December, the same month NASA celebrated the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 17, the last manned mission to the moon, the space agency deliberately flew two obsolete spacecraft, named Ebb and Flow, into a mountain near the moon’s north pole. The crash site was named in honor of Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.
The moon’s extremely thin atmosphere is made up of molecules that “are so few and far between that they don’t interact with each other. They never collide,” Sarah Noble, LADEE program scientist, explained at the briefing.
The type of “collision-less environment,” or exosphere, found on the moon is also found on Mercury, large asteroids and elsewhere in the solar system, making it “a really convenient place to go and learn about this really common type of atmosphere,” she said.
“It’s also a really good time for us to go and explore the lunar exosphere,” Noble continued. Noting that other countries and private companies will plan moon landings in the coming years, Noble explained that because the moon’s exosphere is “so delicate and thin, it’s easily disturbed by things like spacecraft landings.”
Now is the best time for a mission, Noble said, so scientists can “look at it while it’s still in its sort of pristine, natural state.”
NASA categorizes LADEE as a relatively low cost lunar mission, and plans to spend $280 million throughout its full life cycle. During the last decade, about 60 percent of NASA missions have fallen in the same middle price range, with about 20 percent of missions falling under $250 million, and 20 percent costing over $1 billion.
NASA’s budget has been decreasing steadily since the 1960s and currently makes up less than 1 percent of the federal budget. The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology drafted a NASA authorization bill that, despite an initial request of $17.7 billion, would cut the agency’s 2014 budget to $16.6 billion – the smallest amount since 2007 – due to sequestration. Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce Committee proposed and approved an $18 billion budget for the space agency.
“We are deeply concerned that the [House] bill under consideration would set our funding level significantly below the President’s request,” NASA spokesman David Weaver said, adding that “NASA will continue to work with the Congress to move towards legislation that funds a balanced portfolio for NASA to spur economic growth here on Earth and maintain American preeminence in space exploration.”