By Todd Richissin
For NASA, it's back to the moon. Sort of.
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 extended weather forecast for Reston calls for clear skies the night before 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.