Lunar probe launches on collision course with moon
Two NASA probes are on their way to the moon in the hopes of finding water ice and safe landing sites that could pave the way for the return of astronauts to the lunar surface.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and a piggyback mission called Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) took off at 2132 GMT on Thursday aboard an Atlas V rocket from a launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The two lunar missions, which together cost some $580 million, are NASA's first since 1998 and are intended to pave the way for a potential human settlement on the moon. "We will prepare ... the guidebook for future exploration of the moon," LRO project scientist Richard Vondrak told reporters on Tuesday.
LRO will arrive at the moon after about four days and is expected to spend several years in orbit, mapping the lunar surface using a suite of instruments including cameras and an advanced laser altimeter. The altimeter will fire five laser beams 28 times per second to build up 3D maps of the surface.