Another moon landing beckons for USA

Henry

More than half a century since the USA’s first moon landing, another spacecraft from this country will attempt to land on the moon. This is done in preparation for astronauts’ return to the moon and this time is driven by private industry.

Although astronauts are not going to land on the moon just yet, the brand new spacecraft does contain the remains of celebrities and DNA of former presidents.

A brand new spacecraft, the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur, should be launched on Monday at 09:18 (South African time) from the Cape Canaveral space station in Florida for its maiden flight.

That craft carries the Peregrine Lunar Lander, which will ensure that cargo lands safely on the moon’s surface.

If all goes according to plan, Peregrine will reach a mid-latitude region of the moon called Sinus Viscositatis, or the bay of viscosity, on February 23.

“To take America to the surface of man for the first time since Apollo is a great honor,” said John Thornton, CEO of the space robotics company Astrobotic.

Until now, a landing on the moon has only been achieved by a handful of space agencies: the Soviet Union was first, in 1966, followed by the USA.

China has successfully landed three times in the past decade, while India managed to land on the moon’s surface last year with its second attempt.

Now the US is turning to the private sector in an effort to stimulate a broader lunar economy and send its own hardware into space at a fraction of the cost.

Challenging task

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) paid Astrobotic more than $100 million to reach the moon, while another contracted company, Intuitive Machines, wants to launch in February to land near the south pole of the moon.

“We think that this will allow more cost-effective and faster trips to the lunar surface and it will prepare us for Artemis,” said Joel Kearns, NASA’s deputy administrator for space exploration.

Artemis is the NASA-led program to return astronauts to the moon later this decade, in preparation for future missions to Mars.

Controlled landings on the moon are a challenging undertaking, with about half of all attempts ultimately failing.

Private launches by Israel and Japan, as well as a recent attempt by the Russian space agency, have all failed.

The United Launch Alliance’s new rocket, Vulcan, has reusable first-stage booster engines that the company, in a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, expects will help save costs.

‘Colorful’ cargo

On board Peregrine is a series of scientific instruments that will examine radiation and surface composition to pave the way for the return of astronauts to the moon.

However, it also contains a more “colorful” cargo that includes a shoebox-sized shuttle built by Carnegie Mellon University, a physical Bitcoin and the ashes of the author of Star Trekthe late Gene Roddenberry, and the legendary writer and scientist Arthur C Clarke, as well as DNA from a dog.

The Vulcan also carries, among other things, the remains of other actors Star Trek who have passed away, as well as hair samples from Presidents George Washington, Dwight D Eisenhower and John F Kennedy.