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NASA sends unmanned rocket to the moon

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 3:18 AM EDT, Sat September 7, 2013
NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) observatory launches aboard the Minotaur V rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Friday, September 6, in Virginia. NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) observatory launches aboard the Minotaur V rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Friday, September 6, in Virginia.
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Photos: NASA launches moon orbiter
Photos: NASA launches moon orbiter
Photos: NASA launches moon orbiter
NASA launches moon orbiter
NASA launches moon orbiter
NASA launches moon orbiter
NASA launches moon orbiter
NASA launches moon orbiter
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: It launched at 11:27 p.m. ET from Virginia
  • NEW: It will study the lunar atmosphere and environment
  • NEW: It will have an orbiter to gather information on the moon

(CNN) -- NASA launched an unmanned rocket to the moon Friday night to study its lunar atmosphere and environment.

The 90-foot rocket carrying the orbiter was expected to be visible to much of the eastern U.S. seaboard when it launched from Virginia, officials said earlier. If skies were clear, residents of the Carolinas, northern Maine, West Virginia and Pittsburgh could see it, authorities said.

It launched at 11:27 p.m. ET at the Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island.

NASA launches unmanned moon orbiter

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer is designed to "orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust," NASA said.

"A thorough understanding of these characteristics will address long-standing unknowns, and help scientists understand other planetary bodies as well," NASA said.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo completes 2nd powered flight

Nicknamed LADEE, it is expected to reach the moon on October 6.

Earth's distance from the moon is between 223,700 miles to 251,700 miles depending on the moon's position, the space agency says.

CNN's Diane Ruggiero contributed to this report.

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