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A commercial spacecraft carrying supplies is heading towards the moon, marking the first US lunar landing in over 50 years.
Science & Health Technology

A commercial spacecraft carrying supplies is heading towards the moon, marking the first US lunar landing in over 50 years.

On Monday, the initial American spacecraft to land on the moon in over 50 years took off, marking the start of a competition among private companies to transport supplies for NASA and other clients in space.

Astrobotic Technology’s lander caught a ride on a brand new rocket, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan. The Vulcan streaked through the Florida predawn sky, putting the spacecraft on a roundabout route to the moon that should culminate with an attempted landing on Feb. 23.

The goal of the Pittsburgh-based company is to become the first privately owned business to successfully reach the moon, a feat that has only been achieved by four countries thus far. However, a company based in Houston also has a lander prepared for launch and may beat them to the lunar surface by taking a more direct route.

“Being the first to launch and land is still to be determined,” stated John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic.

NASA provided funding in the millions to two companies for the purpose of constructing and operating their own lunar landing vehicles. The agency’s goal is for these privately owned landers to conduct preliminary investigations of the area prior to the arrival of astronauts, while also transporting NASA technology and conducting scientific experiments, as well as fulfilling miscellaneous tasks for other clients.

Astrobotic’s agreement for the Peregrine lander amounts to $108 million.

The most recent moon-landing mission launched by the U.S. was in December 1972.

Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17 were the 11th and 12th individuals to step foot on the moon, marking the end of a significant period that stands as NASA’s greatest achievement.

The recent Artemis program from the space agency, named after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology, aims to send astronauts back to the moon’s surface in the coming years.

Four astronauts may take a lunar fly-around, potentially before the year concludes.

Monday’s highlight was the much-anticipated maiden voyage of the Vulcan rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

The Vulcan, which measures 61 meters, is an enhanced iteration of ULA’s highly accomplished Atlas V, as both it and the Delta IV are being phased out. Blue Origin, owned by Jeff Bezos, supplied the Vulcan with its two primary engines.

During the 1960s and 70s, the Soviet Union and the U.S. achieved multiple successful moon landings before pausing their efforts. China joined this exclusive group in 2013, followed by India in 2023. However, in the past year, both Russia and a private Japanese company experienced failed moon landings, while an Israeli nonprofit also crashed in 2019.

In the upcoming month, SpaceX will be responsible for launching a lander by Intuitive Machines. The Nova-C lander will take a shorter and more direct route, potentially resulting in both spacecraft attempting to land within a few days or even hours of each other.

Thornton described the hour-long journey to the moon’s surface as the most daunting task, expecting it to be a mix of excitement, tension, and fear.

In addition to conducting experiments for NASA, Astrobotic also created its own shipping service. They loaded the 1.9-meter-tall Peregrine lander with various items such as a piece of rock from Mount Everest and small toy cars from Mexico that will be launched onto the moon’s surface and driven around. They also included the ashes and DNA of deceased space enthusiasts, including the creators of “Star Trek” and a science fiction author.

The Navajo Nation requested a delay for the launch due to concerns about human remains. They believe it would be a disrespectful act towards a sacred celestial body held in high regard by Native American culture.

Thornton stated that the objections in December were not timely, but assured that efforts will be made to find a positive solution with the Navajo for upcoming endeavors.

Celestis, a company involved in spaceflight memorial services, stated that the moon should not be controlled by any specific culture or religion, and therefore should not have the power to veto a mission.

Additional debris is located on the upper portion of the rocket. Once it separates from the lander, it will continue to orbit the sun, potentially reaching as far as Mars.

Peregrine’s cargo prices varied from a few hundred dollars to $1.2 million per kilogram, which falls short of covering Astrobotic’s costs. However, Thornton explains that profitability is not the goal for this initial journey.

Many individuals have placed their aspirations and wishes on this, he stated.