LADEE to the Moon (and Me to the Launch!)

Image credit: NASA Ames
Image credit: NASA Ames

This coming Friday, NASA is going to launch the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) from its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. That alone is enough reason to get excited, but I’m super-duper excited because I’m going to the launch!

LADEE (pronounced lah-DEE; think of Scotty yelling “laddie” at one of his redshirts) is on a mission to investigate the Moon’s atmosphere. I know what you’re thinking: “The Moon has an atmosphere?” You bet your EVA boots it does! You see, it’s impossible for a world as rocky and dusty as the Moon not to have some particles hovering about. Craters are constantly forming as asteroids slam into the lunar surface, kicking up dust. With just one-sixth the gravity of Earth, it’s going to be a while before that dust settles down. In the meantime solar heating and other new craters keep the particles above the lunar surface replenished and behold! The Moon has an atmosphere!

Sort of. Technically, the Moon has an exosphere because the particles don’t touch each other for the most part. For some reason, they’re calling it LADEE and not LEDEE. Lucky for me, I’ll be able to find out why they named it the way they did because I’ll be there to ask.

I was lucky enough to be selected to participate in a NASA Social at Wallops this Thursday and Friday to cover the launch as an interested citizen. With a blog. And a Twitter account. And a Facebook profile. In other words, someone who digs this stuff and likes to tell people about it. In fact, the NASA Social folks were kind enough to tell others about me:

Wow, my name in Twitter Lights!

The two days we’ll be there will be packed with briefings, tours of the facility, and a chance to talk with some of the people who have worked tirelessly to bring this mission to life. I’ll also be able to meet some of my fellow science geeks and serve as a kind of citizen journalist covering the launch.

It’s all been a bit surreal, and I have to keep reminding myself that I’m going to actually be an eyewitness to the launch. But I’m sure things will feel very real at liftoff.

One final leap…

The Great Moment – Paul Calle, 1969

Today, Neil Armstrong was laid to rest in a private burial at sea in Navy tradition. Of course, Armstrong’s passing will spark the recurring question of when or whether NASA will return astronauts to the Moon or beyond. But for today, I wanted to remember Armstrong in the seminal moment that defined his life, and set a marker that would forever define the history of the human race into two halves – one when humanity was confined to Earth, and another in which humanity walked upon another world.

Over the years, I’ve seen several paintings and photos of those incredible forays on the surface of the Moon. But this painting, created by the late space artist Paul Calle in 1969 is, to me, striking for its sheer loneliness of being the first human to set foot on another world.

Of course, Buzz Aldrin was in the Eagle Lunar Module ready to descend the ladder a short while later and  yes, there were thousands of engineers and technicians who worked for years to make this moment possible, to say nothing of the millions of people around the world watching the events unfold on television. But for a moment, there was just Neil Armstrong, alone, standing on the surface of the Moon.

Thank you Neil, for that giant leap for all of us.

Neil Armstrong being buried at sea
Credit: NASA / Bill Ingalls. See the Flickr set for more