NASA Robotic Moon Mission Aims for Late-Night Launch Sept. 6

Tonight's NASA rocket launch will send into space the first spacecraft designed and built at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. The nighttime launch will also be visible across much of the East Coast.

NASA's launch of its Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft, a robotic vehicle that is being sent to Earth's moon to conduct research about the moon's surface and dust, is expected to get under way at 11:27 p.m. EDT Sept. 6 when its booster rocket is set to be ignited.

The launch of LADEE is notable for several key reasons—the LADEE spacecraft is the first ever to be designed, developed, built, integrated and tested at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., and its nighttime launch from Virginia is expected to be viewable in the night sky across much of the East Coast, according to NASA. It's NASA's first lunar launch from a pad in Virginia.

The LADEE robotic spacecraft will be sent to the moon atop a U.S. Air Force Minotaur V rocket, which is essentially a ballistic missile converted into a space launch vehicle, according to NASA. The launch is being done by Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va. The LADEE project is a robotic research mission that will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and determine whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky, according to NASA.

A map of the potential viewing areas along the East Coast and instructions on how to spot the rocket as it is launched can be found on Orbital's Website.

The launch will take place at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport's Pad 0B at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., with an expected launch time of 11:27 p.m. EDT. A 4-minute "window" of time will be available for the launch. The launch would have to be rescheduled for another time between Sept. 7 to 10 if the launch window can't be met, NASA stated.

The live launch will be broadcast by NASA TV in New York's Times Square from 10:30 p.m. Sept. 6 to 1 a.m. Sept. 7 on the Toshiba Vision big screen, according to NASA. "The Toshiba Vision screen is positioned directly below the world-famous New Year's Eve Ball on One Times Square. Visitors to Times Square, and around the world, can hear live audio of the broadcast by tuning into Third Rock Radio. Third Rock Radio can be streamed from the NASA homepage, and on smart phones and tablets through the Tuneln mobile app."

Viewers can also watch the LADEE launch live on from NASA TV beginning at 9:30 p.m. EDT, according to In addition, the mission can be followed in real time @NASA and @NASALADEE on Twitter.

By using a former ballistic missile design to send the spacecraft on its way to the moon, NASA is "transitioning away from custom designs and toward multi-use designs and assembly-line production, which could drastically reduce the cost of spacecraft development, just as the Ford Model T did for automobiles," according to NASA.

The moon exploration mission is just the latest in the space agency's ongoing space adventures.