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[b]GRAIL launches on journey to center of the moon[/b]
NASA's Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL, mission to study the moon launched on board a Delta II heavy rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 17B in Florida at 9:08:52 a.m. EDT (13:08:52 GMT) on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011.
"We are on our way, and early indications show everything is looking good," said David Lehman, GRAIL project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "We will know more about GRAIL's status in a few hours, after an opportunity to analyze telemetry and poll our mission controllers."
GRAIL's twin spacecraft have embarked on a nine-month mission to explore Earth's nearest neighbor in unprecedented detail. They will determine the structure of the lunar interior from crust to core and advance our understanding of the thermal evolution of the moon.
The spacecraft twins, GRAIL A and B, will fly a circuitous route to lunar orbit taking 3.5 months and covering approximately 2.6 million miles (4.2 million kilometers) for GRAIL-A, and 2.7 million miles (4.3 million kilometers) for GRAIL-B. GRAIL-A is scheduled to arrive at the moon on New Year's Eve. GRAIL-B will follow its twin a day later on New Year's Day.
In lunar orbit, the two spacecraft will transmit radio signals precisely defining the distance between them. Gravitational differences on the moon are expected to expand and contract that distance. GRAIL team members will use these accurate measurements to define the moon's gravity field. The data will allow scientists to understand what goes on below the surface of our natural satellite.
GRAIL's launch marked the last scheduled liftoff of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II from Cape Canaveral after 22 years and 110 launches.
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