50 years later, the United States will return to the Moon in January. The surprise is that it will not be on a NASA ship

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The United States has not landed on the Moon for more than half a century, but NASA seeks to break the streak with the Peregrine spacecraft and the first mission of the CLPS program.

It is not a manned flight (for that we will have to wait for the Artemis III mission ), but it is the first time since Apollo 17, in December 1972, that a US space mission involves a moon landing. If all goes well, Peregrine will land on the Moon on January 25.

Commercial packaging for NASA. In this new lunar feat, NASA plays the role of client. The Peregrine spacecraft is a design by the private company Astrobotic. It measures two meters high by two and a half wide and can carry up to 90 kg of cargo.

As part of NASA’s CLPS-1 mission, Peregrine will carry nine space agency instruments to the surface of the Moon, including several spectrometers to study lunar regolith and radiation on the satellite. In addition, it will carry other commercial cargo, such as an Arch Foundation time capsule and a plaque with the private key of 1 bitcoin . Yes, a company will send 1 BTC to the Moon for advertising reasons.

Half a century without stepping on the Moon. Peregrine is expected to lift off on December 24 aboard ULA’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket (which will also debut Blue Origin’s methane engines ). Peregrine will take a few days to reach lunar orbit and will wait until January 25 to attempt a landing when light conditions are optimal.

The maneuver is not without challenges. For starters, the rocket has never flown (nor have the BE-4 engines). But the harsh reality is that only half of the missions to the lunar surface have been successful. The excitement of the spectators and the terrified faces of the controllers on the ground will be guaranteed.

Robots on the Moon since Apollo 17. The Soviet missions Luna 21 (with the second lunar rover) or Luna 24 (the last Soviet sample return mission). China performed the first soft landing on the Moon since Luna 24 with Chang’e 3 and the Yutu rover . China was the first to land on the far side of the Moon with Chang’e 3 and the Yutu-2 rover .

Russia resumed its lunar program in August 2023 with the Luna 25 mission but ended up crashing on the satellite. The Beresheet missions from an Israeli company or Hakuto-R from a Japanese company also failed. ISRO, India’s space agency, was the last to successfully land on the moon , and it did so where no one else had done it: near the lunar south pole.

The next CLPS missions. Aside from Astrobotic, NASA has also signed contracts to send missions to the lunar surface with companies such as Firefly Aerospace, Draper and Intuitive Machines, the latter scheduled to lift off in January aboard a SpaceX rocket.

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