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NASA lunar spacecraft sets for Florida for April launch


The truck that is driving LRO to Florida left the Goddard Space Flight Center before dawn to avoid as much traffic as possible. NASA image

WASHINGTON (BNS): NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, spacecraft scheduled for launch on April 24 was loaded on to a truck in Greenbelt, Midlands, on Wednesday, for its onward journey to Florida.

NASA said that mission of the satellite is to return astronauts to the moon. “With this aim, LRO will spend at least one year in a low polar orbit on its primary exploration mission, with the possibility of three more years to collect additional detailed scientific information about the moon and its environment,” NASA said.

The space agency said that the orbiter will carry seven instruments to provide scientists with detailed maps of the lunar surface and enhance understanding of the moon's topography, lighting conditions, mineralogical composition and natural resources.

“Information gleaned from LRO will be used to select safe landing sites, determine locations for future lunar outposts and help mitigate radiation dangers to astronauts. The polar regions of the moon are the main focus of the mission because continuous access to sunlight may be possible and water ice may exist in permanently shadowed areas of the poles,” NASA said.

Built by Goddard engineers, the spacecraft recently completed two months of tests in a thermal vacuum chamber. Inside the chambers, the spacecraft was subjected to hot and cold temperatures it will experience as it orbits the moon, NASA said.

Cathy Peddie, LRO deputy project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Midland, said that the project was the culmination of four years of hard work by everyone. “LRO now begins its launch site processing, where it will be prepared for integration with our sister mission LCROSS, and eventually encapsulated in the Atlas V for its journey to the moon,” Peddie said.

The space agency said that LRO's instruments have considerable heritage from previous planetary science missions, enabling the spacecraft to transition to a research phase under the direction of NASA's Science Mission Directorate a year after the launch.

“Accompanying LRO on its journey to the moon will be the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, a mission that will impact the lunar surface in its
Search for water ice,” NASA said.

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