NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate John Grunsfeld is seen in a video monitor during a NASA Social about the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) mission at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 on Wallops Island, VA. Fifty of NASA’s social media followers are attending a two-day event in support of the LADEE launch. Data from LADEE will provide unprecedented information about the environment around the moon and give scientists a better understanding of other planetary bodies in our solar system and beyond. LADEE is scheduled to launch at 11:27 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6, from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. Photo Credit: (NASA/Carla Cioffi)

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.