NASA launched a mission to the moon on Saturday, sending the twin lunar Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) spacecraft on a 250,000-mile, three-and-a-half month voyage.
The uncrewed, solar-powered spacecraft is moseying to the moon, taking a low-energy trajectory. It will spend 82 days mapping the moon’s surface and its gravity in the most detail yet.
"If there was ever any doubt that Florida's Space Coast would continue to be open for business, that thought was drowned out by the roar of today's GRAIL launch," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said after the Saturday morning launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla. "GRAIL and many other exciting upcoming missions make clear that NASA is taking its next big leap into deep space exploration, and the space industry continues to provide the jobs and workers needed to support this critical effort."
In a sign of public-private alliances to come, a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket carried the twin GRAIL craft into space. NASA staff, demoralized after the last shuttle mission landed in July, appeared to have gotten some of their spunk back.
"Our GRAIL twins have Earth in their rearview mirrors and the moon in their sights," said David Lehman, GRAIL project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.