NASA lunar probe hits snafu, but still on track to moon
The NASA LADEE spacecraft was spinning too fast after Friday night's launch. But NASA says it has two or three weeks to fix the problem before the craft reaches the moon.
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But the LADEE spacecraft quickly ran into equipment trouble, and while NASA assured everyone early Saturday that the lunar probe was safe and on a perfect track for the moon, officials acknowledged the problem needs to be resolved in the next two to three weeks.
S. Peter Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center in California, which developed the spacecraft, told reporters he's confident everything will be working properly in the next few days.
LADEE's reaction wheels were turned on to orient and stabilize the spacecraft, which was spinning too fast after it separated from the final rocket stage, Worden said. But the computer automatically shut the wheels down, apparently because of excess current. He speculated the wheels may have been running a little fast.
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Worden stressed there is no rush to "get these bugs ironed out."
The LADEE spacecraft, which is charged with studying the lunar atmosphere and dust, soared aboard an unmanned Minotaur rocket a little before midnight.
"Godspeed on your journey to the moon, LADEE," Launch Control said. Flight controllers applauded and exchanged high-fives following the successful launch. "We are headed to the moon!" NASA said in a tweet.
It was a change of venue for NASA, which normally launches moon missions from Cape Canaveral, Florida. But it provided a rare light show along the East Coast for those blessed with clear skies.
NASA urged sky watchers to share their launch pictures through the website Flickr, and the photos and sighting reports quickly poured in from New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, New Jersey, Rhode Island, eastern Pennsylvania and Virginia, among other places.
The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer or LADEE, pronounced "LA'-dee," is taking a roundabout path to the moon, making three huge laps around Earth before getting close enough to pop into lunar orbit.
Unlike the quick three-day Apollo flights to the moon, LADEE will need a full month to reach Earth's closest neighbor. An Air Force Minotaur V rocket, built by Orbital Sciences Corp., provided the ride from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility.
LADEE, which is the size of a small car, is expected to reach the moon on Oct. 6.
Scientists want to learn the composition of the moon's ever-so-delicate atmosphere and how it might change over time. Another puzzle, dating back decades, is whether dust actually levitates from the lunar surface.