Monday, December 14, 2009

NASA Telescope Sets Sail On Mission Of Discovery

A new NASA observatory set sail today on a mission that is expected to shed light on the origins of planets, stars and galaxies after a predawn launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Mounted atop a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket, NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer blasted off at 9:09 a.m. and was deployed in an orbit high above the planet about 55 minutes later.

The launch came after a relatively quiet countdown. Mission managers tracked a rain shower northwest of Space Launch Complex 2 at the central California air base and also kept close tabs on stiff upper-altitude winds. But the weather ultimately cooperated and the Delta II blasted off at the opening of a 14-minute window.

"We hit the mark," said NASA Launch Director Chuck Dovale. "It was a great feeling."

Equipped with a sophisticated infrared telescope, the WISE spacecraft is expected to uncover objects never seen before, including some of the coolest coolest stars, the universe’s most luminous galaxies and some of the darkest near-Earth asteroids and comets.

The spacecraft will image some of the closest stars to the sun and it will compile a vast catalogue of objects that will become targets for the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to be launched in 2014.

The launch was the 16th in 2009 for United Launch Alliance and the 37th success in the 36 months since Lockheed Martin and Boeing merged the Atlas and Delta rocket families under a new joint venture partnership.

The company's first launch came on Dec. 14, 2006, and since then, 11 Atlas Vs, 21 Delta IIs, and 4 Delta IVs have launched with 100 percent mission success.

"The men and women of ULA are extremely proud of our mission success record while merging the Atlas and Delta product lines into one cohesive team," said Jim Sponnick, ULA's Vice President, Delta Product Line. "Launching successfully 16 times in one year is no easy feat, and 37 missions in 36 months is certainly a high water mark for our industry."

Check out mission details in this United Launch Alliance Mission Booklet.

There also is a lot of good information in this NASA Press Kit.

All the basics are here in this NASA Fact Sheet.

ABOUT THE IMAGES: Click to enlarge the United Launch Alliance image (top) of the Delta II rocket blasting off with NASA's newest space telescope -- the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, which was launched early today from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. You can also click to the enlarged image to get a bigger, more detailed view. Photo Credit: Bill Hartenstein/United Launch Alliance. The second image is a NASA TV screen grab just after liftoff.

This photo provided by Vandenberg Air Force Base, located near Lompoc, Calif., shows the launch of a Delta II rocket before dawn Monday, Dec. 14, 2009, from Vandenberg AFB on a $320 million mapping mission to search for hidden asteroids, comets and other celestial objects. The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or Wise, will produce the most comprehensive map yet of the cosmos, according to mission managers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Vandenberg Air Force Base, Senior Airman Andrew Satran)

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