A NASA spacecraft set to probe the far reaches of the Universe soared into space today.
The Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP) lifted off on schedule at 3:46 p.m. Eastern aboard a Delta II rocket from Pad B at Space Launch Complex 17, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. About 90 minutes later--also on schedule--MAP separated from the Delta II third stage, deployed its solar arrays and began its journey to answer fundamental questions about the history, content, shape and fate of the Universe.
"We're off to a fantastic start," said Clifton Jackson, MAP Mission Systems Engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. "Everything is looking good so far."
Science observations will begin once MAP reaches its L2 orbit. L2 is the second Lagrange point of the Sun-Earth system. L2 is four times farther from the Earth than the Moon in the direction opposite the Sun, or about one million miles from Earth. MAP is the first spacecraft to use an orbit around the L2 point as its observing station.
MAP is currently in a highly elliptical Earth orbit. In approximately one month, MAP will execute a gravity-assist swing past the Moon and then travel for two months to get to its L2 orbit. This particular trajectory is designed to minimize the use of fuel. From L2, MAP will have an unobstructed view of the sky, and will be free from near-Earth disturbances such as magnetic fields and microwave emission for its two years of science observations.
"MAP's launch was exhilarating. For many, it was the culmination of years of hard work," said Dr. Charles L. Bennett, MAP Principal Investigator, also from Goddard. "MAP is beginning its journey into deep space to record microwave light from the early Universe, now no more than a faint whisper from 14 billion years ago." The MAP mission is set to answer important questions such as: What is the content and structure of the Universe? How did the Universe evolve? What is its ultimate fate?
MAP is a partnership between Goddard and Princeton University, NJ. Science team members are also located at the University of Chicago, the University of California, Los Angeles, Brown University, Providence, RI; and the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.
More information on the MAP mission can be found at the following websites: http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/gsfc/spacesci/map/map.htm http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov