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NASA sends unmanned rocket to the moon

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(CNN) -- NASA launched an unmanned rocket to the moon Friday night to study its lunar atmosphere and environment.

The 90-foot rocket carrying the orbiter was expected to be visible to much of the eastern U.S. seaboard when it launched from Virginia, officials said earlier. If skies were clear, residents of the Carolinas, northern Maine, West Virginia and Pittsburgh could see it, authorities said.

It launched at 11:27 p.m. ET at the Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island.

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer is designed to "orbit the moon to gather detailed information about the lunar atmosphere, conditions near the surface and environmental influences on lunar dust," NASA said.

"A thorough understanding of these characteristics will address long-standing unknowns, and help scientists understand other planetary bodies as well," NASA said.

Nicknamed LADEE, it is expected to reach the moon on October 6.

Earth's distance from the moon is between 223,700 miles to 251,700 miles depending on the moon's position, the space agency says.

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