45th Space Wing Supports Successful GRAIL Launch
By Chris Calkins and Eric Brian
/ Published September 10, 2011
Sept 10, 2011 -- CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. - The U.S. Air Force's 45th Space Wing provided flawless Eastern Range support of NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission here today at 9:08 a.m.
Launched on board a United Launch Alliance Delta II from Space Launch Complex 17, the rocket flew in the 7920-Heavy configuration. GRAIL includes two spacecraft to be placed in lunar orbit to study the moon's interior and thermal evolution.
For Brig. Gen. Anthony Cotton, this was his first launch as commander of the 45th Space Wing. He took command of the wing Aug. 30.
"From a personal standpoint, it was most exciting for me to have the opportunity to be in this position. More importantly, it was a terrific experience to see first-hand how this total team comes together for launches like this," he said. "We congratulate NASA and ULA for this important launch."
General Cotton, who also serves as the Director of the 15-million-square-mile Eastern Range, expressed his appreciation to everyone involved in supporting this launch.
"My thanks go to all four groups of the wing, wing staff agencies, and all mission partners who made this happen," he said. "What a great way to get started. We look forward to more continued successes in the future."
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., will manage the GRAIL mission, and Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver, Colo., built the spacecraft.
"This safe and successful launch was a great effort by the 45 SW, NASA, and ULA team," said Col. Rory Welch, 45th Space Wing vice commander, who served as launch decision authority for the mission. "It's exciting and humbling to send such an important mission to the moon that also marks the culmination of the tremendous history of success for the Delta II program on the Eastern Range."
Scientists will use the gravity field information from the two satellites to X-ray the moon from crust to core to reveal the moon's subsurface structures and, indirectly, its thermal history.
The GRAIL science team is made up of a number of scientists, including former NASA astronaut Sally Ride, who is assisting with the project's public outreach efforts.
GRAIL is the second of three NASA missions launching over the next few months to explore the solar system.
On Aug. 5, NASA launched the Juno spacecraft toward Jupiter. It will take the probe five years to reach the gas giant planet.
NASA's newest Mars rover, the Mars Science Laboratory named Curiosity, is currently scheduled to launch in late November.