NASA Launches Unmanned Moon Shot, First in Decade

NASA launches 1st moon shot in decade, unmanned probes will scout landing spots for astronauts

NASA Aims for Unmanned Moon Rocket Launch Thursday
This image provided by NASA shows the Atlas rocket with NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO,... Expand
(Jack Pfaller/NASA/AP Photo)

NASA launched its first moon shot in a decade Thursday, sending up a pair of unmanned science probes that will help determine where astronauts could land and set up camp in years to come.

The liftoff occurred just one month and two days shy of the 40th anniversary of the first lunar footprints. The mission is a first step in NASA's effort to return humans to the moon by 2020.

Scientists cheered as the Atlas V rocket carrying the two spacecraft blasted off in late afternoon, ducking through clouds and providing an exhilarating start to the $583 million mission.

"It was amazing," said John Keller, a deputy project scientist.

The two spacecraft should reach the moon in four to five days — or by early next week. One will enter into an orbit around the moon for a mapping mission. The other will swing past the moon and go into an elongated orbit around Earth that will put it on course to crash into a crater at the moon's south pole in October.

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