NASA set to launch Grail twin moon probes, weather permitting [updated]


NASA plans to launch a pair of probes this morning that will gather data of unprecedented detail about our moon’s gravity.

Launch of the twin Grail spacecraft is scheduled for 8:37am EST, from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. If that time fails, NASA has a second window just a few minutes later, at 9:16am.

UPDATE: According to NASA, the launch has been delayed to the second time, 9:16am, due to wind.

UPDATE 2: NASA has announced that, due to “upper level winds,” launch has been pushed back 24 hours.

With a chance of thunderstorms looming, however, the launch only has a 40 percent chance of moving forward without weather delays, reports Unfortunately, the forecast is equally grim on Friday, so Grail’s launch may have to wait until the weekend, when conditions are expected to be much better.

If that doesn’t work, Grail has a total of 42 days before the window will close, after October 19.

With the Grail mission, NASA scientists hope to gain a better understanding of the geology and evolutionary history of our moon. Such a study will help researchers discover how the moon was formed 4.6 billion years ago, which will give clues about how other heavenly bodies in our inner solar system came into existence.

“What we’re trying to do with the Grail mission – we’re essentially getting a picture into the interior of the moon,” said Maria Zuber, Grail principal investigator at MIT. “We intend to provide a holistic view of the origin and evolution of the moon, and by extension, how other rocky planets in the inner solar system formed.”

At a cost of $496 million, the twin Grail probes, Grail-A and Grail-B, are set to enter the moon’s orbit simultaneously, and maintain a distance of about 34 miles above the lunar surface. The two probes will circle the moon about 75 to 225 miles apart from each other.

Grail’s destination is still quite a long way off, however, as the mission is taking the most energy efficient path to the moon, meaning it will take until around New Year’s Day for Grail to arrive.

Grail-A and Grail-B will communicate with each other using microwave signals, and be able to measure the distance between one another within less than the width of a human blood cell, according to Sami Asmar, Grail deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

NASA expects Grail to provide massive quantities of invaluable data, which will build upon knowledge gained through previous lunar missions.

“The moon is a fantastic body…in terms of learning about early planets,” Zuber said. “It’s nearby, it’s accessible, and it preserves the record of what early planets are like. Other planets in the inner part of the solar system have gone through the same processes that the moon has gone through. I think in the next five years, we’re going to rewrite the book on our understanding.”

Emerging Tech

Saturn didn’t always have rings, according to new analysis of Cassini data

Saturn's rings are younger than previously believed, according to new data gathered from the Cassini mission. The rings are certainly less than 100 million years old and perhaps as young as 10 million years old.
Emerging Tech

Dinosaurs never stood a chance after asteroid impacts doubled 290M years ago

The number of asteroids pummeling Earth jumped dramatically around 290 million years ago. By looking at Moon craters, scientists discovered that d the number of asteroid impacts on both Earth and the Moon increased by two to three times.
Emerging Tech

How long is a day on Saturn? Scientists finally have an answer

The length of Saturn's day has always been a challenge to calculate because of the planet's non-solid surface and magnetic field. But now scientists have tracked vibrations in the rings to pin down a final answer.
Emerging Tech

In a first for humankind, China is growing plants on the moon

Having recently landed a probe on the far side of the moon, China announced that it managed to grow the first plant on the moon, too. Here's why that matters for deep space travel.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.
Emerging Tech

Meet Wiliot, a battery-less Bluetooth chip that pulls power from thin air

A tiny chip from a semiconductor company called Wiliot could harvest energy out of thin air, the company claims. No battery needed. The paper-thin device pulls power from ambient radio frequencies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell signals.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Hexbot is a modular robot arm that does everything from drawing to playing chess

Who wouldn’t want their own personal robot arm to do everything from laser engraving to competing against you in a game of chess? That's what Hexbot, a new modular robot, promises to deliver.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world will take your breath away

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Too buzzed to drive? Don’t worry — this autonomous car-bar will drive to you

It might just be the best or worst idea that we've ever heard: A self-driving robot bartender you can summon with an app, which promises to mix you the perfect drink wherever you happen to be.
Emerging Tech

Scientists successfully grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish

Researchers have managed to grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish for the first time, and even to successfully implant them into live mice. The results could be a game-changer for diabetes.
Emerging Tech

Tiny animals discovered in Antarctic lake deep beneath the ice

Scientists have made a surprising discovery in Antarctica: the carcasses of tiny animals including crustaceans and a tardigrade were found in a lake that sits deep beneath over half a mile of Antarctic ice.
Emerging Tech

Google’s radar-sensing tech could make any object smart

Computer scientists have shown how Google’s Soli sensor can be used to make dumb objects smart. Here's why radar-powered computing could finally make the dream of smart homes a reality.
Emerging Tech

Tiny microbots fold like origami to travel through the human body

Tiny robots modeled after bacteria could be used to deliver drugs to hard to reach areas of the human body. Scientists have developed elastic microbots that can change their shape depending on their environment.