Hit play, please. We’ll wait.
Can’t say we buried the lead.
We were fortunate enough to be selected to attend an incredible NASA Social event at Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Virginia September 5th and 6th as NASA (as well as several private agencies) prepared to and launched the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE).
Quick note: LADEE is pronounced “Laddie”, not “Lady” as you might expect. We asked why and the father of the project said there was no particular reason. That’s just the way the people in the room pronounced it when the acronym was formed.
NASA Television got some pretty good video of the launch, too.
We’re both space enthusiasts – geeks, if you will – so this opportunity was very exciting for the two of us and 48 other attendees from across the country (you may have heard Westminster, Maryland resident Christian Ready providing color commentary on our video clip – thanks, man!).
Launching a rocket into space is pretty cool on its own, but the really fascinating stuff starts happening in about a month when LADEE reaches the moon. After some system checks, the spacecraft will start the scientific phase of its mission which will last about 100 days. LADEE is outfitted with three scientific instruments: a mass spectrometer, a UV spectrometer and lunar dust experiment equipment.
Back in the Apollo days, we thought the moon had no atmosphere (most of us probably learned that in school). But today we know the moon does have an atmosphere, it’s just very thin and its molecules don’t often interact with one another.
As you can see in the sketch above, Apollo astronauts noted a strange glow over the horizon near the terminus, the line between day and night. At the time we didn’t have a good explanation for what was causing the glow, but today scientists think it’s moon dust responding to changes in electric fields as day turns to night.
The approximately six-foot-tall spacecraft (model pictured above) will dip into the lunar atmosphere and use its instrumentation to figure out the elements involved and if and how they interact with moon dust. The information it sends back will not only help us understand the moon, but also other planetary objects with weak atmospheres (see Mars, asteroids, Phobos, Deimos).
That’s not all LADEE will be doing over the next 100+ days (hint: LASERS), but we’ll save that for another post. For the moment, we invite you to consider this: NASA is doing some pretty amazing things in its efforts to expand our knowledge about our universe. Thanks to NASA Social, we had the chance to meet a lot of people behind the mission, the launch, the science and beyond. Thank you for being so engaging with the public, NASA. You gave us an unforgettable experience and enough inspiration to keep us stargazing and hungry for knowledge for many years to come.