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Expedition 56 will launch a mini-rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, landing lunar lander on Moon
NASA targeting February for launch of first moon rocket since Apollo mission
A rocket that can take humans to the moon is set to blast off from Florida in February, the first time the US has sent a lander to the lunar surface since the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s.
The Nasa Environmental Control and Life Support Systems’ Lunar Infrared Sounder-Eyes, which will send back data about the Moon’s surface temperature, will launch as part of a mission that also includes a second mini-rocket, designated the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE-e).
Both rockets are designed to blast off from a pad at Kennedy Space Center, on the south-east side of Florida near Cape Canaveral. NASA will be launching its first test flight of the Delta II rocket in February.
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Launch schedules for the mini-rocket have been pushed back to prevent computer problems with the LADEE-e, said Nasa spokesman Joshua Buck. He said the agency now hopes to launch in February, though no date has been announced.
Once the mini-rocket blasts off, it will glide down to an altitude of about 4,500 metres (15,000ft), before its LADEE-e companion, is released and aims to land on the Moon. The LADEE-e is to seek the thermal history of the Moon’s atmosphere – the so-called “fog layer” – with the hopes of understanding what caused the solar wind and the heavier version of the hydrogen isotope H 2 O, which give off radiation from the Sun.
If the two rockets successfully deploy, the Moon’s atmosphere would be cold and dense enough to house astronauts for more than a week. Researchers hope to use lunar samples gathered by the LADEE-e to learn more about the causes of the Earth’s volcanoes and earthquakes.
While 20% of the Moon is permanently shrouded in moon dust, this creates an atmosphere thick enough to allow for the construction of almost any surface uses, including roads, bridges, railroads and ports.
The first Apollo astronauts, Alan Shepard and Virgil “Gus” Grissom, launched from Cape Canaveral in February 1961.
The fifth mission of the Apollo programme, Apollo 11, launched from Kennedy Space Center in July 1969 to begin an historic journey to the Moon. It carried Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. The last Moon mission left lunar landers on the Moon in December 1972.