Twin NASA spacecraft are on their way to the moon today after a successful launch aboard a Delta II Heavy rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The mirror-image satellite first were set free from the upper stage of the United Launch Alliance rocket, and then the twins separated from each other. Now they are off on a three-month voyage to the moon, where they will become the first spacecraft to fly in tandem around a planetary body other than Earth.
The satellite separation came one hour, 28 minutes and 29 seconds after the Delta II blasted off from Launch Complex 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
"The Delta II is just a gem," NASA Launch Director Tim Dunn said.
The launch was the 110th and final scheduled Delta II flight from Cape Canaveral. It also was the last scheduled launch from Complex 17.
The two spacecraft are at the heart of NASA's $496 million Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or GRAIL, mission. The spacecraft are designed to map the gravitation field of the moon, enabling scientists to determine its make-up from crust to core. Doing so will shed light on the origin and evolution of the moon as well as other rocky bodies -- Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars -- in the inner solar system.
ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge the Florida Today photo of the Delta II Heavy rocket blasting off from Launch Complex 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The image was taken by award-winning Florida Today photographer Craig Bailey.