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Rocket to the moon

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A 3.5-minute exposure, shows the trail of the rocket launched from the Eastern Shore on Friday. The break in the streak is the separation between the first two stages of the 5-stage rocket. Stephen Blue of Deltaville took this photo in Mathews County.

by Tom Chillemi

The skies lit up Friday just before midnight when a multi-stage rocket was launched from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Virginia’s Eastern Shore at Wallops Island.

Many local residents watched the launch and took photos of the bright white streak in the sky. “The moment the rocket launched, the entire sky over the Eastern Shore lit up like a rapid sunrise,” said Stephen Blue of Deltaville, who took photos of the launch from a Mathews beach. “We finally lost sight of it after about 3 minutes, as it flew east over the ocean and into orbit.”

The rocket is bound for the moon where it will collect data. Termed the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), the 840-pound spacecraft will orbit the moon to study its thin “exosphere,” the area that surrounds the moon.

The first stage of the Minotaur V rocket burned for 83 seconds, producing 361,000-pound-feet of thrust. There were a total of five stages. 

The 216-foot-tall rocket is adapted from an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).

The LADEE will gain momentum by circling the earth in ever-widening orbits. The third and final earth orbit will be at 173,000 miles, which will give it enough momentum to coast towards the moon, where it will be pulled by the moon’s gravity. The moon is about 236,000 miles from earth.

It will take LADEE about a month to reach lunar orbit. In early October, LADEE will orbit the moon at a height between 12 and 37 miles for about 100 days, sending data to earth. It will then be crashed into the moon.

This was the first lunar mission to be launched from MARS, and was visible along much of the East Coast from New York to South Carolina.

The launch facility is on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, just south of the Virginia-Maryland state line.

posted 09.11.2013

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