This Friday, NASA is launching a lunar probe. This is a big deal for a number of reasons:  NASA doesn’t launch stuff all that often any more, what with this whole “government in crisis, no one has any money” thing. But perhaps even more relevant/exciting is the fact that this launch will originate from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Northern Virginia… which means that rocket-loving Baltimoreans have a chance to watch it shoot into space.

The lunar probe is headed out on a moon dust mission (no, really, that’s how NASA describes it). After it’s launched at 11:27pm on September 6, the Minotaur V lunar atmosphere probe will travel in a highly elliptical orbit of 200 km x 278,000 km around the Earth, orbiting the Earth 3.5 times in 23 days. Eventually, the moon’s gravity will distort that elliptical orbit until the rocket is pulled close enough that it can use its boosters to enter orbit around the moon. The entire mission should last about 100 days.

The map above indicates when the rocket will first be visible to various areas along the east coast. (One way to get a rough measure of degrees above the horizon is to use your fist; with your arm fully outstretched, your fist spans approximately 10 degrees.)

This map shows the rocket’s maximum elevation, depending on your location. As you can see, the closer you get to the launch site, the more of its arc you’ll be able to see.

Weather permitting, viewers in Annapolis will be able to see the rocket’s parabola over the Maryland State House less than a minute after launch. But if you really want to get a good look, head southeast, and look for a place where few buildings and trees obstruct the horizon. Road trip to Assateague, anyone?

One reply on “NASA Is Launching a Space Probe on Friday, and Baltimore Has a Front-Row Seat”

  1. Rachel, don’t you mean this is being launched from Wallops Island in VA? If so, that is not Northern Virginia, it is actually a small island closest to Chincoteague, VA.

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