Dawn Readies for Asteroid Belt

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Dawn Readies for Asteroid Belt
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NARRATOR: The Dawn spacecraft and the Delta II rocket that will launch it depend on each other, but take different paths to the launch pad.

Working in separate areas, teams of technicians prepare both the spacecraft and the rocket at the same time.

That work started in April when the Dawn spacecraft arrived in Florida at the Astrotech processing facility near NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

Technicians wearing protective coveralls removed the shipping container and covers before inspecting the spacecraft. The Delta II slated to loft the Dawn spacecraft toward the asteroid belt started its own preparations at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

In a hangar a few miles from Launch Pad 17B, workers tested the rocket's instruments and engines. The rocket was taken to the launch pad in stages.

There, another team pointed the rocket toward space and began attaching nine solid-fueled boosters to the first stage. The boosters are crucial to making the rocket fast enough to break Earth's gravitational pull on the Dawn spacecraft.

The second stage arrived separately and was lifted to the top of the Delta first stage where it waited for the spacecraft.

While the rocket took its place, technicians at Astrotech ran more tests on the Dawn satellite and bolted on a pair of solar arrays that give the probe a winged appearance.

They also readied a suite of sensors and cameras that will let Dawn study the Vesta and Ceres asteroids up close for the first time.

The spacecraft was checked out and fueled with a xenon gas before it was attached to the third stage engine, rolled out of the Astrotech hangar and carried to the launch pad.

A crane at the pad hoisted the spacecraft and its protective nosecone beside the rocket before latching it in place.

It stands poised to leave Earth in a thundering jolt of smoke and flames on NASA's latest mission of understanding.

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