An artist's impression of LADEE firing its thrusters

Moon probe achieves orbit despite Nasa shutdown

Nasa’s latest Moon probe safely achieved lunar orbit yesterday, despite the US government shut down.

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) blasted off on 6 September aboard a small rocket that placed the spacecraft into a highly elliptical orbit around Earth, just weeks before the partial shutdown of the US government that sidelined about 97 per cent of the Nasa's 18,000 employees.

After three trips around the planet, by Sunday LADEE was in precise position to fire its braking rocket, let itself be captured by the Moon's gravity and then settle into lunar orbit.

Among those Nasa workers still on the job were LADEE's flight controllers, who monitored the do-or-die manoeuvre, said deputy project scientist Greg Delory, with Nasa's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

Over the next two weeks, LADEE will tweak its orbit so that it ends up about 155 miles above the lunar surface, an ideal vantage point for studying the gases surrounding the Moon and search for electrically charged dust rising from the ground.

The government furlough is not expected to impact a LADEE laser communications demonstration slated for later this month, Delory said.

Last week, Nasa brought back workers preparing a new Mars orbiter for launch on 18 November. Skeleton crews, meanwhile, are overseeing Nasa's communications satellites and science probes.

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