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NASA launches moon research mission

By the CNN Wire Staff
Two lunar orbiters are aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, which launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Two lunar orbiters are aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, which launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • GRAIL stands for Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory
  • A rocket carrying two orbiters launched from Cape Canaveral
  • The mission will study how the moon was formed

(CNN) -- After a couple of weather delays, NASA finally launched its moon research mission Saturday morning.

Called GRAIL, the effort will study how the moon was formed. It will explore "the structure of the lunar interior, from crust to core... to advance understanding of the thermal evolution of the moon," NASA said.

Two lunar orbiters are aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, which launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The crafts -- GRAIL-A and GRAIL-B -- will eventually separate from the Delta rocket. GRAIL stands for Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory.

Once in orbit, the orbiters' speeds will increase when they pass over formations on the moon's surface, allowing scientists to measure those formations based on the distance between the two spacecraft.

"Trying to understand how the moon formed, and how it evolved over its history, is one of the things we're trying to address with the GRAIL mission," says Maria Zuber, principal investigator for GRAIL from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "But also, (we're) trying to understand how the moon is an example of how terrestrial planets in general have formed."

NASA says the mission is "the first time students have a dedicated camera on board a planetary spacecraft. "

Teachers will be able to register their classes and allow their students to explore specific regions of the moon in detail through pictures taken by the spacecraft.

Digital video imaging system called MoonKAM will offer middle-school students the opportunity to request photography of lunar targets for classroom study. Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space, heads the project.

 
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