NASA’s latest moon mission, LADEE, will spend three months studying the moon’s water cycle and atmosphere – two things most of us thought the moon didn’t have.
If all goes as planned, at 11:27 p.m. tonight, NASA will launch LADEE – the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, pronounced “laddy” – from its Wallops Island facility in Virginia. Most of the Eastern Seaboard will be able to watch the beginning of what sounds like an impossible mission: to study the moon’s atmosphere and water cycle.
Most of us learned in school that the moon doesn’t have either one of those. It turns out the story is a little more complicated, and a lot more interesting.
Past missions have looked down at the moon’s surface (Apollo, LCROSS) and interior (GRAIL), or even up to the lunar skies (Artemis), but LADEE is doing something different: “We’ll be looking sideways, through the atmosphere and dust, to understand what’s happening just above the surface,” says Sarah Noble, LADEE’s program scientist at NASA’s Washington, DC headquarters.
LADEE was created to answer “two mysteries,” says Rick Elphic, LADEE’s project scientist, “the first being the thin, tenuous, very exotic lunar atmosphere, utterly unlike our own; the second being this mysterious “lofted substance,” reportedly dust, that the Apollo astronauts saw above the surface.” …