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NASA Lunar Orbiter Solves Snag After Successful Launch

The LADEE spacecraft, which began its trip to the moon last night in a launch from Virginia's coast, has run into some mechanical problems, NASA says. Officials say the robotic orbiter remains on track, however, and its problems can be resolved before it reaches the moon next month.

"Team members are analyzing a situation with LADEE's reaction wheels, but say the spacecraft is communicating and working as designed, with plenty of time to resolve the issue before reaching lunar orbit," NASA says.

Update at 12:30 p.m. ET: Issue Is Resolved, NASA Says

In an update posted to Twitter, S. Peter Worden, director of NASA's Ames Center, says that the problem has been fixed.

"It appears the @NASALADEE start up issues have been resolved. Guess we just had to burp the baby"

Thank you to our readers for pointing the update out in the comments section.

Our original post continues:

Carried by a Minotaur V rocket, the craft burst into the night sky from the Wallops Flight Facility shortly before midnight Friday, leaving a bright trailing flame that was visible for hundreds of miles along the Eastern seaboard.

The launch inspired many amateur photographers to post their images of the craft's arcing path. NASA has compiled those photos in a Flickr group.

LADEE stands for Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer. The craft "will orbit the moon to gather detailed information about its atmosphere and the role of dust in the lunar sky," NASA says.

The AP has more on the technical issues facing the mission:

"S. Peter Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center in California, which developed the spacecraft, told reporters he's confident everything will be working properly in the next few days.

"LADEE's reaction wheels were turned on to orient and stabilize the spacecraft, which was spinning too fast after it separated from the final rocket stage, Worden said. But the computer automatically shut the wheels down, apparently because of excess current. He speculated the wheels may have been running a little fast."

The craft's reaction wheels are used "to position and stabilize the spacecraft," NASA says. Worden also said that the snag doesn't represent "an unusual event in spacecraft" and that there is no need to rush to fix the problem. LADEE is expected to reach the moon in 30 days.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.