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Minotaur V Rocket Launch: NASA Heads from DC Area Back to the Moon

The rocket, intended to orbit the moon, will be launched from Virginia and should be visible throughout much of DC.

A view of the Minotaur V's predecessor, the Minotaur IV. (Photo courtesty of NASA.)
A view of the Minotaur V's predecessor, the Minotaur IV. (Photo courtesty of NASA.)

By Todd Richissin

For NASA, it's back to the moon. Sort of.

In an effort to collect information about the moon's atmosphere, theMinotaur V rocket is set to be launched Sept. 6 from NASA's Wallops Island facility on Virginia's coast.

While the mission won't land on the moon, the rocket is designed to orbit it, marking the first time the Virginia facility will host a launch that streaks beyond the Earth's orbit.

The night launch should make the rocket visible in Northern Virginia, Washington, DC, and much of the Northeast.

Hope for a clear night: The launch window is from 11:27 p.m. to 11:31 p.m. The weather forecast for Georgetown calls for partly cloudy skies the night of the launch.

Here's what NASA has to say about seeing the rocket:

"As a reference, when you look at your fist with your arm fully outstretched, it spans approximately 10 degrees. Thus, if you are in Washington, DC, the highest point the Minotaur V will reach is approximately 13 degrees above the horizon, or just slightly more than a fist's width."

The idea is to get the small car-sized Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) to orbit the moon "to gather detailed information about the structure and composition of the thin lunar atmosphere and determine whether dust is being lofted into the lunar sky," according to NASA. "A thorough understanding of these characteristics of our nearest celestial neighbor will help researchers understand other bodies in the solar system, such as large asteroids, Mercury, and the moons of outer planets."

The rocket will be operated by a Virginia corporation, Orbital Sciences of Dulles.

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