Oft-Delayed Probe Returns To The Launchpad
NASA tells ANN the Dawn spacecraft completed the 15-mile journey
from Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, FL to Pad-17B of the
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 0510 EDT Tuesday morning. The
launch period for Dawn -- NASA's eight-year, 3.2-billion-mile
odyssey into the heart of the asteroid belt -- opens September
"From here, the only way to go is up," said Dawn project manager
Keyur Patel of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA.
"We are looking forward to putting some space between Dawn and
Mother Earth and making some space history."
Well... up isn't the only way Dawn can go, although no
doubt NASA engineers would rather not think of that. As ANN has reported, Dawn has
suffered a series of hardships -- including cancellation of the entire
program, later reconsidered -- on its way to the
Speaking of hardships... this is Dawn's second trip to the
launchpad; the original launch attempt was scrubbed
in July due to logistical difficulties, issues with
the spacecraft's Delta II 7925-H launch booster, and the need to
clear the pad for the more time-sensitive launch of NASA's Mars
A worker's wrench even fell on Dawn's solar panel during a
launchpad procedure to prepare the spacecraft for spin-balance
testing, though it did not damage any cells.
Between now and launch day, NASA will conduct a systems
integration test of the Delta II and Dawn, to insure both are
working together. The test will simulate all events as they will
occur on launch day, but without propellants aboard the
Dawn's mission is to characterize the conditions and processes
of the solar system's earliest epoch 4.5 billion years ago by
investigating in detail the massive asteroid Vesta and the dwarf
planet Ceres, which reside between Mars and Jupiter in the asteroid
Scientists theorize these were budding planets never given the
opportunity to grow. However, Ceres and Vesta each followed a very
different evolutionary path during the solar system's first few
million years. By investigating two diverse asteroids during the
spacecraft's eight-year flight, the Dawn mission aims to unlock
some of the mysteries of planetary formation.
Once launched, Dawn will be the first spacecraft to orbit an
object in the asteroid belt, and the first to orbit two bodies
after leaving Earth.