NASA Launches Asteroid Rocket
First 'interplanetary' spaceship to visit two asteroids
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 27, 2007 10:30 AM CDT
This image from NASA TV shows the Delta-II rocket carrying the Dawn spacecraft just after liftoff from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Thursday morning Sept. 27, 2007. (AP Photo/NASA)   (Associated Press)
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(Newser) – This morning NASA launched a spacecraft that's headed to the asteroid belt, where it will get a close-up look at the belt's largest bodies, asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres.  It's NASA’s first multi-target mission, and Dawn, which one engineer called “the first real interplanetary spaceship,” could tell scientists much about the early solar system.

Sporting three ion engines—TIE Fighters only had two—the Delta II rocket will be able to orbit the two bodies—in 4 and 7 years, respectively—before returning to Earth. Vesta has a dry, rocky surface of frozen lava, while Ceres is an icy sphere. “Many people think of asteroids as kind of little chips of rock,” an engineer said. “But the places that Dawn is going to really are more like worlds.”