GRAIL Twins Awesome Launch Videos – A Journey to the Center of the Moon

GRAIL A and B Lunar gravity mappers rocket to the moon atop a Delta II Heavy booster on Sept. 10 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. View from Press Site 1. Credit: Alan Walters (

Video caption: NASA’s twin GRAIL spacecraft blast off atop a Delta II Heavy booster at 9:08 a.m. EDT on Saturday, September 10, 2011 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a mission to explore the moon in unprecedented detail.

Be sure to check out these awesome launch videos showing the Delta II Heavy rocket blasting off with NASA’s GRAIL Lunar Gravity Mapper twins on a “Journey to the Center of the Moon” – as shot by NASA and others – on Sept. 10. from Pad 17 B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 9:08 a.m. EDT.

Thus began a circuitous 3.5 month voyage from the Earth to the Moon culminating in lunar orbit arrival on New Year’s Eve and Day 2012.

Liftoff of the $496 Million Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) duo marked the last currently scheduled launch of a United Launch Alliance Delta II from Florida and also the last launch from Space Launch Complex 17. This was the 356th Delta launch overall since the first one in 1960. It was the 110th and final planned flight of a Delta II from Florida.

Watch the NASA GRAIL Launch Video as the 12 story Delta’s 1st stage liquid and solid engines ignite and the rocket’s explosive exhaust and fiery flames instantaneously and dramatically shoot out from below and are vented safely to the side through specially constructed flame ducts to protect the rocket.

Just after the 1 minute mark, the 6 ground lit solid rocket motors are jettisoned and dramatically tumble away from the first stage. Moment later comes the ignition of the three air-lit solid rocket motors.

This dramatic video was shot by Matt Travis of spacearium -from my viewing location with a hoard of photojournalists at Press Site 1 located inside Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Press Site 1 is just 1.5 miles away from Pad 17B. It offers the closest and best view of the mighty Delta II rocket which stands 128 feet tall and generates some 1.3 million pounds of liftoff thrust.

Watch this video for post-launch commentary from NASA’s Delta II Launch manager Tim Dunn from the Mission Director’s Center.

Dawn launch on September 27, 2007 by a Delta II Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer

The GRAIL Launch video below was taken from Jetty Park Pier, about 2.9 miles south of Pad 17B and shows a completely different perspective from across the waterway of Port Canaveral.

I watched the unforgettable launch of Dawn five years ago from Jetty Park Pier.

Jetty Park and the beaches along Cape Banaveral and Cocoa Beach have been the best place for the public to view Delta rocket launches.

Thousands of spectators lining the Florida Space Coast were absolutely thrilled to witness the historic launch of GRAIL on the final Delta II booster from Florida on a gorgeous morning.

GRAIL’s primary science objectives during the 82 day mission are to determine the structure of the lunar interior, from crust to core, and to advance understanding of the thermal evolution of the moon and apply that to the other rocky bodies in our solar system.

Check this short NewBlast Video summary of GRAIL’s launch and objectives from Spaceflight Now

Many of NASA’s recent science missions have launched aboard Delta II rockets, including the outstandingly successful Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers, Dawn Asteroid Orbiter, MESSENGER Mercury orbiter and Stardust and Deep Impact comet spacecraft.

Congratulations to everyone on the GRAIL team for a superb performance !

GRAIL A and B Lunar gravity mappers rocket to the moon atop a Delta II Heavy booster on Sept. 10 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. View to Space Launch Complex 17 gantry from Press Site 1
Credit: Ken Kremer (

Read Ken’s continuing features about GRAIL
NASA launches Twin Lunar Probes to Unravel Moons Core
GRAIL Unveiled for Lunar Science Trek — Launch Reset to Sept. 10
Last Delta II Rocket to Launch Extraordinary Journey to the Center of the Moon on Sept. 8
NASAs Lunar Mapping Duo Encapsulated and Ready for Sept. 8 Liftoff
GRAIL Lunar Twins Mated to Delta Rocket at Launch Pad
GRAIL Twins ready for NASA Science Expedition to the Moon: Photo Gallery

September is Moon Month!

Jane Houston Jones from JPL provides information on what’s up for September, focusing on the Moon. The next few days will be a good time to look for the Apollo landing sites — and no, you won’t be able to see any details from Earth, even with a good telescope, but it is fun to try and locate the areas humans have walked on the Moon. Jane shows you how. And of course, the GRAIL mission to the Moon is scheduled to launch on Sept. 8. Learn more about the mission here.

And as a heads up, look for new images of the Apollo landing sites from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter that will be released next week. LRO recently moved closer to the Moon to take new and improved images of these historic sites. We’ll share them as soon as they are available.

JPL’s ‘Muscle Car’ – MSL – Takes Center Stage

JPL's 'Hot Wheels' - The Mars Science Laboratory or 'Curiosity' is being prepared to launch to mars this November. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA is experiencing what could be dubbed a “summer of planetary exploration.” With the Juno mission to Jupiter on its way as of Aug. 5, NASA is prepping not one but two more missions – this time to terrestrial bodies – specifically the Moon and Mars.

On Sept. 8 NASA is planning to launch GRAIL (Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory). This mirror image spacecraft consists of two elements that will fly in tandem with one another and scan the Moon from its core to its crust. This mission will serve to expand our understanding of the mechanics of how terrestrial bodies are formed. GRAIL will provide the most accurate gravitational map of the Moon to date.

The aeroshell that will cover both the MSL rover and its jetpack landing system. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

When it comes to upcoming projects that have “celebrity” status – few can compete with the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) or Curiosity. The six-wheeled rover was part of a media event Friday Aug. 12 that included the “Sky-Crane” jetpack that is hoped will safely deliver the car-sized rover the Martian surface. Also on display was the back half of the rover’s aeroshell which will keep the robot safe as in enters the red planet’s atmosphere.

Numerous engineers were available for interview, one expert on hand to explain the intricacies of how Curiosity works was the Rover Integration Lead on the project, Peter Illsley.

One fascinating aspect of MSL is how the rover will land. As it pops free of the aeroshell, a jet pack will conduct a powered descent to Mars’ surface. From there the rover will be lowered to the ground via wires, making Curiosity look like an alien spider descending from its web. Once the rover makes contact with the ground, the wires will be severed and the “Sky-Crane” will fly off to conduct a controlled crash. Ben Thoma, the mechanical lead on this aspect of the project, described how he felt about what it is like to work on MSL.

MSL is slated to launch this November atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 541 rocket. If everything goes according to plan the rover will begin exploring Mars’ Gale Crater for a period of approximately two years. In every way Curiosity is an upgraded, super-charged version of the rovers that have preceded her. The Pathfinder rover tested out many of the concepts that led to the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity and now MSL has incorporated lessons learned to take more robust scientific explorations of the Martian surface.

The "Sky-Crane" jetpack that will be used to slowly lower the MSL rover to the Martian surface. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

What’s Up for March?

Jane Houston Jones from JPL provides a video report on the happenings in space this month, and what you can see in the night sky in March: the MESSENGER spacecraft goes into orbit around Mercury on the 18th, and you can see the swift planet in the evening skies, too! Meanwhile, celebrate Sun-Earth day on the 19th, and view the sun through solar safe telescopes.

Jones was also featured on a recent 365 Days of Astronomy podcast, talking with Jane Platt and providing a “Sneak Peek at the Springtime Skies.”

Watch a Mars Rover Under Construction – LIVE!

If you are tired of the drama of your favorite reality TV show, it might be time to switch things up a bit. The most recent reality show, available ad free on the internet, features a spunky robot and a huge cast of characters. The spunky robot is Curiosity, the name of the Mars Science Laboratory rover. The characters are all wearing white clean room “bunny suits,” so it will be difficult to tell them apart. Surely, if you spend enough time watching you’ll be able to discern who’s who.

In all seriousness, you can watch the construction of Curiosity live via Ustream. The NASA/JPL team that is constructing the rover will be at work between 8 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. PDT Monday through Friday. Otherwise, things will be a little quiet. The camera looks out onto a pretty active part of the clean room, but they may move the rover outside of the view of the camera. Some of the busy periods will be archived at the bottom of the Ustream feed, so if you end up watching during a quiet period, take a look at those while you’re waiting for the next work period to start up.

For more on the rover and its mission, visit the mission page or see our story on Universe Today from September, “5 Things about the Next Mars Rover“.

Source: JPL

Curiosity Rover Takes First Test Drive

Even though there were no wheelies or skid marks, it was an exciting day for the teams working on the next Mars rover. The Mars Curiosity rover (or the Mars Science Laboratory) took its first short drive in the JPL clean room where it is being built. This video was captured from live broadcast on July 23, 2010. Cheers and commentary provided by mission team members who watched the event from a viewing gallery above the clean room floor. In this clip the rover drives backward for the first time.