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Twin NASA craft launched to study insides of moon

By Marcia Dunn

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Sept. 10 2011 8:51 a.m. MDT

"It will be easier next time," Zuber promised.

For now, NASA has no plans to return astronauts to the moon, Earth's closest neighbor at approximately 240,000 miles away. That program, called Constellation, was canceled last year by President Barack Obama, who favors asteroids and Mars as potential destinations in America's future without the shuttle.

This is the second planetary mission for NASA since the space shuttle program ended in July, and attracted a large crowd to Cape Canaveral. NASA expected as many as 6,000 to 7,000 guests for the morning liftoff, about half the throng that jammed Kennedy Space Center for the Juno launch to Jupiter at the beginning of August.

Grail was supposed to soar Thursday, but high wind interfered. Then NASA needed an extra day to check the rocket after engine heaters stayed on too long. High wind almost stopped NASA again Saturday; the launch team had to skip the morning's first opportunity, but the wind dissipated just in time for the second.

The year's grand finale will be the launch of the biggest Mars rover ever the day after Thanksgiving.

"NASA is still doing business even though the shuttles stopped flying," Weiler told reporters earlier this week.

Grail is the 110th mission to target the moon, according to NASA records. Missions have been launched by the United States, Soviet Union, Japan, China and India.

The previous moonshot was two years ago: NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Just last month, the moon-circling probe beamed back the sharpest pictures yet of some of the Apollo artifacts left on the moon from 1969 through 1972 — and even moonwalkers' tracks. NASA released the photos earlier this week.

Online:

NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/grail/main/index.html

Sally Ride Science: http://moonkam.ucsd.edu/

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