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NASA Probe Readied for Moon Mystery Duty

Credit: NASA Ames

There’s been a quip circulating for years. That is, the first restaurant on the Moon will have little atmosphere.

But a future lunar probe is being readied to detail just that – how much atmosphere is present surrounding the Moon.

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft is undergoing final instrument installation – as its launch date next year draws closer.

LADEE is a robotic mission that will orbit the Moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust.

In addition to LADEE’s science instruments, the probe will carry a technology demonstration payload: the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration.

That shakeout of hardware enables LADEE to use lasers instead of radio waves to achieve broadband speeds to communicate with Earth.

Apollo mystery

One mystery that LADEE may help clear up: Was electrostatically lofted lunar dust responsible for the horizon glow that Apollo astronauts observed?

Rick Elphic, LADEE project scientist, thinks the question may be resolved once and for all.

What makes the exotic, tenuous atmosphere of the Moon breathe and change…and how lofted lunar dust moves and how they are lost, will be explored by LADEE, Elphic said.

“A mission like LADEE has been needed since Apollo, which left us with tantalizing hints about the dust and an exotic, tenuous atmosphere,” Elphic added.

LADEE’s launch in August 2013 will mark several firsts. It will be the first payload to depart Earth atop a U.S. Air Force Minotaur V rocket integrated by Orbital Sciences Corp. It will also be the first deep space mission to launch from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

NASA Ames Research Center is responsible for managing the mission, building the spacecraft and performing mission operations.

By Leonard David

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