After over 50 years since the last American footsteps on the lunar surface, NASA is gearing up for a monumental return. The Artemis I mission is slated for launch later this year in February. It marks the first crewed US mission to the moon in decades, ushering in a new era of lunar exploration.
In a historic event set for Monday, a new rocket developed by Lockheed Martin and Boeing’s joint venture in NASA, United Launch Alliance, will carry the first lunar lander from the United States since the Apollo missions in 1972. The success of this launch is vital for the future of United Launch Alliance as it aims to compete with SpaceX in commercial space launches.
The lunar lander, named Peregrine and built by Astrobotic Technology, a small Pittsburgh-based company, could become the first commercially developed spacecraft to make a soft landing on the moon. NASA has sponsored several privately developed lunar landers as part of its plan to establish a U.S. presence on the moon, amid the renewed international space race.
Scheduled to launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 2:18 a.m. ET on Monday, Peregrine will embark on a complex journey, with a planned touchdown on the moon’s surface on February 23. The mission aims to test technology for more precise landings in future missions.
While the success of any moon landing is considered a 50-50 chance, Astrobotic CEO John Thornton expressed confidence, stating, “We’ve put everything that we can into this mission“. The mission comes after two failed lunar landing attempts in 2023, highlighting the challenges of landing spacecraft on the moon with precision.
The Moon Race
This mission signifies the first U.S. lunar landing attempt, either robotic or crewed, in five decades. It aligns with the global trend of renewed interest in moon exploration, with India and China achieving soft landings in recent years.
NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which includes contracts with companies like Astrobotic, aims to reduce the cost of lunar landers significantly compared to past efforts. Peregrine’s mission, with a total cost of $108 million, is part of this initiative.
Apart from scientific payloads, Peregrine will carry human remains and mementos from other nations. The inclusion of human remains has sparked opposition from the Navajo Nation, who consider the moon sacred. Astrobotics hopes this mission’s success will pave the way for a growing lunar economy and inspire commercial ventures on the moon.