We have liftoff. The first U.S. lunar lander in over half a century left the earth’s grasp early Monday morning and set a course towards the moon.
In doing so it flagged a new space race among private companies keen to make deliveries for NASA and other customers to the celestial body.
AP reports Astrobotic Technology’s uncrewed Peregrine lander went skywards aboard a brand new rocket, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan.
Peregrine is carrying five scientific payloads to the lunar surface for NASA, as well as 15 others, including from Hungary, Mexico and the UK.
The Vulcan and its cargo left Cape Canaveral at 07:18 GMT (02:18 EST).
It streaked through the Florida predawn sky, putting the spacecraft on a roundabout route to the moon that should culminate with a first landing attempt on Feb. 23.
“So, so, so excited. We are on our way to the moon!” a clearly delighted Astrobotic chief executive John Thornton said.
The Pittsburgh company aims to be the first private business to successfully land on the moon, something only four countries have accomplished.
India made history on Wednesday as its Moon mission became the first to land in the lunar south pole region. https://t.co/2DLC4WuOuB— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) August 24, 2023
But a Houston company also has a lander ready to fly, and could beat it to the lunar surface, taking a more direct path, as Breitbart News reported.
“First to launch. First to land is TBD,” to be determined, Thornton cautioned.
Peregrine is the first of eight planned missions in NASA’s commercial lunar payload services initiative.
NASA hopes it can reduce the cost of future missions by sponsoring the private sector.
The last time the U.S. launched a moon-landing mission was in December 1972.
Apollo 17’s Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt became the 11th and 12th men to walk on the moon, closing out an era that has remained NASA’s pinnacle, the AP report notes.
The Native American Navajo nation made a last-ditch attempt to halt Monday’s flight, arguing such commercial missions amounted to desecration of the Moon, sacred to many indigenous cultures, the Financial Times reports.
Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren said in a statement issued Friday that plans to deliver the cremated remains and DNA of 66 individuals aboard Peregrine lunar lander would blight something the Navajo consider a sacred site.