Private Companies Aim to Revive US Moon Landings

Private Companies Aim to Revive US Moon Landings

Astrobotic Technology and Intuitive Machines lead the charge in commercial moon deliveries as NASA focuses on returning astronauts to the lunar surface.

After moon landings by China and India, and failed attempts by Russia, Japan, and Israel, two private companies are racing to put the United States back in the game. With the support of NASA, these companies aim to kick-start commercial moon deliveries, while the space agency focuses on returning astronauts to the moon. Astrobotic Technology from Pittsburgh is set to launch its lander on a brand new rocket, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan, on Monday. Houston’s Intuitive Machines plans to launch its lander in mid-February, hitching a ride with SpaceX. Meanwhile, Japan is also preparing for a lunar landing in two weeks.

The Challenge of Landing on the Moon

Landing on the moon is no easy feat. The lack of atmosphere makes it difficult to slow down spacecraft, and parachutes are ineffective. Therefore, a successful landing requires the use of thrusters to descend while navigating treacherous cliffs and craters. Several previous attempts by different countries and private entities have resulted in crashes. However, the United States has not attempted a moon landing since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. Now, Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines aim to end America’s moon-landing drought and become the first private entities to achieve a gentle landing on the lunar surface.

The Race for the Moon

Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines received nearly $80 million each from NASA in 2019 to develop lunar delivery services. Both companies are now vying for the opportunity to make history. Astrobotic’s lander, named Peregrine, will carry research packages from seven countries, including NASA, to the moon’s mid-latitudes. It will aim to land in the Bay of Stickiness. Intuitive Machines’ lander, Nova-C, will carry experiments for NASA to the moon’s south polar region, targeting 80 degrees south latitude for touchdown. This region is believed to hold vast amounts of frozen water that could be used for drinking and making rocket fuel.

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Challenges at the Moon’s South Pole

Landing near the moon’s south pole is particularly challenging due to the rocky and craggy terrain filled with craters. Finding a safe landing spot with enough light is crucial. The south pole is of particular interest to scientists because of the potential for vast amounts of frozen water. NASA’s Artemis program, named after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology, plans to land astronauts near the south pole. Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines also have future missions planned for the south pole, including carrying NASA’s water-seeking Viper rover and an ice drill.

The Symbolism and Payloads

Astrobotic’s lander carries symbolic items from Pittsburgh, such as a Kennywood amusement park token and dirt from Moon Township’s Moon Park, along with the ashes or DNA of 70 individuals, including “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. The upper stage of the rocket will carry the representation of 265 more individuals, including three original “Star Trek” cast members and strands of hair from three U.S. presidents.

Conclusion:

Private companies Astrobotic Technology and Intuitive Machines are leading the charge to revive U.S. moon landings. With NASA’s support, they aim to kick-start commercial moon deliveries while the space agency focuses on returning astronauts to the lunar surface. Landing on the moon poses numerous challenges, but these companies are determined to achieve a successful and gentle landing. The south pole, with its potential for frozen water, is of particular interest. As the race to the moon intensifies, these missions mark a significant step forward in lunar exploration and could pave the way for future scientific discoveries and space exploration endeavors.

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