NASA, currently out of the business of sending humans into space, has launched its newest mission: shooting a telescope into the heavens to hunt for black holes.
The $165 million telescope, called Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, will search for black holes by scanning X-ray light at higher energies than any spacecraft before it. As such, it will make images that are 10 times crisper and 100 times more sensitive than any telescope that has thus far operated in this region of the universe.
NASA chose to have the telescope launched from a plane, saying in a statement: "Plane-assisted launches are less expensive than those that take place from the ground. Less fuel is needed to boost cargo away from the pull of Earth's gravity."
The telescope was carried by a Pegasus air-launched rocket attached to an Orbital Science Corporation L-1011 Stargazer aircraft. It took off from the Kwajalein Atoll in the South Pacific on Wednesday. CNN reported that the rocket was dropped from the plane and ignited and then propelled the telescope. The rocket's first motor burned for 70 seconds before dropping away and allowing the second-stage motor to start burning. Around 13 minutes after being released from the plane, the telescope array separated from the rocket's third stage and entered into orbit.