A private contractor is launching a NASA mission into space bound for the moon, and it will be visible in the night sky across hundreds of miles of the Northeast on Friday, including all across Maryland.
NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, better known as LADEE, is scheduled to launch from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, on the Delmarva Peninsula, at 11:27 p.m. Friday. The robotic mission, managed by NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., is slated to collect information on the thin atmosphere that surrounds the moon.
An Orbital Sciences Corp. Minotaur V rocket will carry the craft into space. The company has a contract with the U.S. Air Force for orbital and suborbital rocket launches.
The launch will be visible as an arc in the south-southeast sky in the Baltimore area. It should burst over the horizon just less than a minute after launch, appearing to reach a peak about a minute and a half after that. It will appear to then trail back to the horizon.
But don't worry -- that likely doesn't mean it's crashing. It's supposed to appear that way, but it's actually ascending faster into space, according to Orbital.
If you want to learn more ahead of the launch, NASA TV is broadcasting pre-launch programming starting at 9:30 p.m. Friday, featuring scientists and experts discussing the mission, followed by a live broadcast of the launch. Viewers can ask questions via social media using the hashtag #askNASA.
For those on the Eastern Shore or willing to travel there, you can get an even closer look at one of two launch sites NASA is setting up near Wallops. Visitors can view the launch from Robert Reed Park on Chincoteague or on Beach Road in the area between Chincoteague and Assateague Islands.
Users of smartphones operating on the Android system can download an app from Wallops that will provide launch updates and information, as well as a compass directing which way to look. Orbital has provided diagrams showing the expected view of the launch from various areas, including from the State House in Annapolis.