The L-1011 carrier aircraft takes off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station carrying the Pegasus XL rocket/Galaxy Evolution Explorer under its belly.
NASA's Galaxy Evolution Explorer spacecraft was successfully launched today from a Pegasus XL rocket released by an L-1011 aircraft off the coast of Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Station at 7:59:57 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (4:59:57 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time).

The mission features an orbiting telescope that will observe millions of galaxies across 10-billion years of cosmic history. Its findings may help astronomers determine when the chemical elements originated and the stars we see today first blossomed.

After the space observatory separated from the rocket's third stage - at 11 minutes and 5 seconds after release from the L-1011 carrier aircraft -- it entered into Earth orbit at an altitude of 690 kilometers (429 miles). The spacecraft's signal was acquired at about 8:21 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (5:21 Pacific Daylight Time) by the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System. At 8:45 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (5:45 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time), the satellite deployed its solar arrays and locked on to the Sun. A tracking station near Perth, Australia then acquired the spacecraft's signal at 8:54 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (5:54 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time).

After one month of in-orbit checkout, the science mission will begin. It will last for up to 28 months.

The mission's ultraviolet detectors will hone in on galaxies containing young, hot, short-lived stars that emit a great deal of ultraviolet energy. Because these galaxies are actively creating stars, studying them will help scientists learn more about how, when and why stars form inside galaxies.

The Galaxy Evolution Explorer mission is led by the California Institute of Technology, which is also responsible for science operations and data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., a division of Caltech, manages the mission and built the science instrument. The mission was developed under NASA's Explorers Program, managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Va., is responsible for the spacecraft, integration and testing, ground data system and mission operations, and the launch vehicle. Other partners include the University of California, Berkeley; as well as Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md., and its Space Telescope Science Institute. Key flight optics components were developed and contributed by France's Laboratoire d'Astrophysique de Marseille. Important test equipment and science operations software was developed and contributed by Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea.

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