First US moon landing in decades with NASA research and human remains


When a rocket will launch for the first time on Monday, it will carry the first lunar lander launched from the United States since NASA’s final Apollo mission in 1972.

The stakes are really high.

The success of the rocket, constructed by the joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing known as United Launch Alliance, is critical to the company’s future and desire to challenge SpaceX’s supremacy in the commercial launch sector.

Astrobotic Technology’s lunar lander, constructed by a small Pittsburgh-based firm, could become the first commercially developed spacecraft to land softly on the moon.

NASA has funded the building of a small fleet of such privately designed lunar landers, with the goal of using them to provide the United States a presence on the moon during a new international space race that began in 2023.

While the NASA program is not dependent on a single lander successfully landing, this initial robotic mission could set the tone and pace for the space agency’s reinvigorated attempts to study the moon robotically before returning men to the lunar surface later this decade.

Peregrine, Astrobotic’s robotic lunar lander, is set to launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 2:18 a.m. ET Monday aboard the ULA Vulcan Centaur rocket.

According to recent projections, there is an 85% likelihood that the weather will be clear for takeoff. Over the next few days, there will also be backup launch opportunities.

The way forward

Experts in the space industry, notably Astrobotic CEO John Thornton, have compared landing any spaceship on the moon to flipping a coin.

“This is really like 50-50 shots on goal kind of approach — where it’s really more about the industry succeeding, not any specific one mission,” Thornton told CNN over the phone on January 2.

First US moon landing in decades with NASA research and human remains

Having said that, Thornton noted, “We’ve put everything we can into this mission.”

Landing on the moon is a difficult task.

If the launch goes off as planned on Monday, Vulcan Centaur will propel the lunar lander into what is known as a trans-lunar injection orbit. This entails a perfectly timed engine burn that will propel the Peregrine lander into Earth’s orbit, allowing it to line up with the moon 384,400 kilometers (238,855 miles) distant.

Beginning approximately an hour after launch, the Peregrine lander will separate from the rocket and chart its own trajectory toward the moon, using onboard engines to plot a precise course.

Peregrine, named after the fastest-flying bird in the world, will spend some time in lunar orbit after reaching the moon before attempting a touchdown on February 23.

According to Thornton, the intended landing spot is a patch of the moon’s near-side surface a few kilometers wide, but the lander will test equipment that could provide a more accurate landing zone on future missions.

The final seconds before the spacecraft arrives on the lunar surface will be critical. Last year’s unsuccessful lunar landing attempts by a Japanese corporation and Russia predicted the challenge of keeping exact control over a vehicle as it swoops in for a touchdown, with both efforts slamming into the moon.

A new race in space

This mission will be the United States’ first robotic or crewed lunar landing attempt in five decades.

The mission also coincides with a resurgent worldwide ambition to explore the moon.

While both Japan’s Ispace and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency failed to land on the moon last year, India’s Chandrayaan-3 successfully landed in August. With this achievement, India joined China, the former Soviet Union, and the United States as the fourth nation to land a vehicle on the moon.

First US moon landing in decades with NASA research and human remains

Only India and China have made smooth landings in the twenty-first century.

The Japan Exploration Aerospace Agency, or JAXA, could make its maiden lunar landing this month with its “Moon Sniper” spacecraft, which has been on the way for months.

NASA, on the other hand, is trying to quickly catch up by sponsoring commercially built robotic landers. Aside from Peregrine, the space agency has contracts with Firefly Aerospace and Intuitive Machines, both of which are situated in Texas. The latter’s lunar lander might be launched as early as mid-February.

These contracts, which are all part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, aim to significantly reduce the cost of manufacturing a lunar lander, especially in comparison to the multibillion-dollar effort required to create the Apollo-era lander.

Peregrine and the other CLPS landers are intended to be far less expensive, with NASA agreeing to pay its partner firms only one fixed-price contract.

(Astrobotic’s contract for this mission, for example, was $108 million, which was more than NASA had previously pledged. However, agency officials stated that the contract was renegotiated due to the epidemic.)

“This is one of many relatively cheap missions that are going to be sent to the surface of the moon to try to break the paradigm to try to get to a new price point,” Thornton told CNN in an interview.

Other robotic moon missions for CLPS could launch later in 2024, including a golf cart-sized rover onboard a separate lunar lander dubbed Griffin for Astrobotic.

This rover will investigate the lunar south pole for water ice, a vital characteristic of the twenty-first-century space race. Water ice might be used to maintain future astronaut colonies or transformed into rocket fuel for deeper space missions.

The Artemis program will be a cornerstone of NASA’s lunar endeavors, paving the path for humans to return to the surface. NASA hopes to deploy people on a mission to fly near the moon as early as late 2024, with humans returning to the surface later that decade.

Peregrine’s research

For this mission, Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander will travel to a lunar location known as Sinus Viscositatis, also known as the “Bay of Stickiness.”

The name is a nod to the adjacent Gruithuisen Domes, a distinctive lunar structure thought to have been produced by sticky magma.

First US moon landing in decades with NASA research and human remains

The Peregrine lander will carry ten science payloads, five of which will be sponsored by NASA. Among them are two devices that will monitor the radiation environment, “helping us better prepare to send crewed missions back to the moon,” according to Paul Niles, NASA’s project scientist for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, during a news conference on Thursday.

Other sensors launched by the space agency will seek water and hydroxyl molecules in the lunar soil. NASA will also investigate the moon’s ultra-thin atmosphere.

According to Thornton, the Peregrine vehicle will operate on the moon’s surface for around 10 days until the region enters lunar darkness, when instruments will be too cold to work.

Human remains and relics

While NASA is the principal financial backer of the project, it is only one of the customers engaged.

Science experiments and commercial cargo from various countries, including Germany, Mexico, and the United Kingdom, will also be aboard Peregrine.

Astrobotic, for example, collaborated with German shipping business DHL to send little souvenirs to space, such as “photographs and novels to student work and a piece of Mount Everest.”

Notably, Peregrine will transport human remains on behalf of two commercial space burial firms, Elysium Space and Celestis, a move that has provoked objections from the Navajo Nation, the nation’s largest population of Native Americans.

Allowing the remains to land on the moon’s surface, according to the group, would be an insult to many Indigenous nations, which revere the moon. According to its website, Celestis promised to transport ashes to the moon for costs starting around $13,000.

The landing attempt, according to Thornton, will be a surreal event – the culmination of 16 years of work by Astrobotic staff.

The most challenging challenge in Astrobotic’s voyage, he said, was convincing people that a Pittsburgh-based business of fewer than 300 people could build a lunar lander at all.

“We got loads of people that doubted us and laughed at us along the way,” he went on to say.

However, Thornton is optimistic that success will result in a thriving lunar economy, assisting NASA in meeting its objectives while also inspiring the business sector to pursue opportunities on the moon.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.