At ignition, flames and smoke from the engines begin liftoff of the United Launch Alliance Delta II Heavy rocket carrying NASA's twin Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission off Space Launch Complex 17B on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The spacecraft launched at 9:08:52 a.m. EDT Sept. 10. GRAIL-A will separate from the second stage of the rocket at about one hour, 21 minutes after liftoff, followed by GRAIL-B at 90 minutes after launch. The spacecraft are embarking on a three-month journey to reach the moon. GRAIL will fly twin spacecraft in tandem around the moon to precisely measure and map variations in the moon's gravitational field. The mission will provide the most accurate global gravity field to date for any planet, including Earth. This detailed information will reveal differences in the density of the moon's crust and mantle and will help answer fundamental questions about the moon's internal structure, thermal evolution, and history of collisions with asteroids. The aim is to map the moon's gravity field so completely that future moon vehicles can safely navigate anywhere on the moon's surface.
Credit: NASA/Sandra Joseph and Don Kight