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NASA Countsdown for Moon Mission

January 4, 1998

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ NASA began a countdown Sunday for its first moon mission in 25 years.

An unmanned rocket is scheduled to blast off Monday night with NASA’s Lunar Prospector, a probe that will orbit the moon and examine the surface for evidence of frozen water and analyze minerals and gases.

NASA has a scant four-minute window Monday to launch the Athena 2 rocket, a new model built by Lockheed Martin Corp. If there is a delay, the launch will be bumped to early February to take advantage of the next available fuel-efficient route to the moon.

The $63 million mission is part of NASA’s low-cost, fast-paced Discovery program to explore the solar system.

NASA’s last moon mission was Apollo 17 in December 1972. The space agency sent a radio astronomy satellite into lunar orbit the following year, but that spacecraft did not study the moon.

The Defense Department’s Clementine spacecraft, launched in 1994, detected what some believe is evidence of water ice at the moon’s south pole and scientists hope Prospector will confirm that finding.

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