THUNDER BAY – During the first missions to the Moon, from the historic lunar orbit by Apollo 8, followed by the first landing by a manned spacecraft on the lunar surface in 1969, the moon has always been a source of facination and interest. Today, NASA has launched the GRAIL mission to the moon. This latest mission is to map the moon’s magnetic fields, but also will offer incredible opportunities for youth from around the world to learn more about the Moon.
The launch had been postponed on Friday due to weather conditions. Both GRAIL spacecraft have separated on schedule from the second stage of the Delta II rocket and are now flying to the moon. So far, all systems are working as expected.
“We are on our way, and early indications show everything is looking good,” said David Lehman, GRAIL project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. “We will know more about GRAIL’s status in a few hours, after an opportunity to analyze telemetry and poll our mission controllers.”
The second of GRAIL’s twin satellites are now flying solo to the moon, having separated from the Delta II second stage. Like the other spacecraft, GRAIL-B will soon deploy a pair of solar panels to charge its batteries and provide power to the spacecraft during its mission. It will take the two GRAIL spacecraft until New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to reach the moon. Once in their orbits, the two spacecraft will form a trailing pattern to detect and map the moon’s gravitational field with unprecedented precision.
The twin GRAIL spacecraft are flying separately to the moon before they take up positions near each other to assess the lunar gravity field, the moon’s formation and structure, and the moon’s history.
Part of the mission includes the ability for students to follow the trip to the moon and the mapping efforts of the twin GRAIL satellites. GRAIL MoonKAM (Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle school students) is GRAIL’s signature education and public outreach program. It is led by Dr. Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, and her team at Sally Ride Science in collaboration with undergraduate students at the University of California San Diego.
GRAIL MoonKAM will engage middle schools across the country in the GRAIL mission and lunar exploration. Tens of thousands of fifth- to eighth-grade students will select target areas on the lunar surface and send requests to the GRAIL MoonKAM Mission Operations Center (MOC). Photos of the target areas will be sent back by the GRAIL satellites and made available in the Images section of this Web site. Students will use the images to study lunar features such as craters, highlands, and maria while also learning about future landing sites.
The GRAIL MoonKAM mission will begin in 2012 when the GRAIL satellites are in orbit around the Moon and the dedicated MoonKAM cameras are activated. The mission will last approximately 80 days.
Visit: MoonKAM for more information on the GRAIL Mission.
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