By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
On Friday, September 6, around 7pm, NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) was launched into space! Scientists will use the probe to gain further understanding of the Moon’s exosphere – the highest level of the atmosphere where air density is so low, molecules barely interact with each other. Exospheres also happen to be the most common form of atmosphere in the Solar System, and scientists want to know why. In addition, they hope to find evidence that will explain why clouds of dust appear around the Moon.
“It’s not like terrestrial dust,” explained Butler Hine, NASA’s LADEE project manager. “Terrestrial dust is like… powder. On the Moon, it’s very rough. It’s kinda evil. It follows electric field lines; it works its way into equipment. One of the questions about dust on the Moon is an engineering question: how do you design things so that they can survive the dust environment.”
NASA scientists say it will only take LADEE 30 days to reach the Moon… assuming there aren’t anymore complications. You see, a few hours after the probe was launched, there was a technical glitch. LADEE’s reaction wheels, which spin in order to stabilize the spacecraft’s position without using precious fuel, wouldn’t start up! Did NASA just waste $280 million to launch a faulty piece of metal into the sky? “The reaction wheel issue noted soon after launched was resolved a few hours later,” said NASA Ames Research Center director Pete Worden. “The LADEE spacecraft is healthy and communicating with mission operators.” Phew, thank goodness.
Now, if there are no more glitches with LANDEE, the Moon probe will spend about 100 days collecting data on the Moon’s exosphere. The spacecraft will also test new laser communications in a system NASA is calling “interplanetary Internet.” After all the information is collected and sent back to Earth, the brave probe will sacrifice itself and crash into the surface of the Moon, officially marking the end of the project.