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Chesapeake Liftoff

Launched from Wallops Island, LADEE on its way to lunar orbit

Was your eye on the sky at 11:27 Friday night, September 6?
    Did LADEE’s takeoff burn an arc into your vision and memory?
    LADEE — short for NASA Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer — is intended to be a close observer of the moon.
    The rocket boosting LADEE into space was a first for Chesapeake Country, launching as it did from Wallops Island  just south of Maryland on the Virginia coast. The night was clear and the big show visible throughout the region, even into brightly lit Washington, D.C.
    But not to Bay Weekly’s Sky Watch columnist J. Alex Knoll, watching with 13-year-old son Jack on the northern rim of Annapolis.
    “I picked the wrong spot. We lost out to tree cover. We were bummed,” Knoll said.    
    The launch they missed was successful as well as spectacular.
    Over three minutes, the Minotaur rocket carrying the lunar probe lifted off in a fiery blast.
    After four minutes, LADEE had traveled so far from home that tracking was continued from Bermuda.
    The probe reached low orbit where, it was “temporarily left tumbling by a power surge,” according to the cheeky British IT website The Register.
    Now, LADEE is “communicating and is very robust,” according to NASA, working its way by widening circles to lunar orbit in about a month.
    In orbit, the probe is supposed to gather and transmit “detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust.”
    When its work is done, it will be commanded to hurl itself to destruction on the moon.
    Watch the launch at