First US Moon Landing in 50 Years Is Near

Two private companies are racing to get there first next month
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 7, 2024 3:00 PM CST
First US Moon Landing in 50 Years Is Near
The Peregrine lunar lander is prepared for launch atop a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket in Cape Canaveral, Fla., in December 2023. The expected launch date is Monday, Jan. 8, 2024.   (United Launch Alliance via AP)

India scored a moon landing last year, and Japan hopes to do the same next month. Now two private companies are hustling to get the US back in the lunar game, more than five decades after the Apollo program ended. As the AP explains, it's all part of a NASA-supported effort to kick-start commercial moon deliveries.

  • Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology is up first with a planned liftoff of a lander Monday aboard a brand new rocket, United Launch Alliance's Vulcan.
  • Houston's Intuitive Machines aims to launch a lander in mid-February, hopping a flight with SpaceX.

The US has not attempted a moon landing since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, the last of 12 moonwalkers, explored the surface in December 1972. The US followed with a handful or two of lunar satellites, but no controlled landers—until now. Not only are Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines looking to end America's moon-landing drought, they're vying for bragging rights as the first private entity to land, gently, on the moon. Despite its later start, Intuitive Machines has a faster, more direct shot and should land within a week of liftoff. It will take Astrobotic two weeks just to get to the moon and another month in lunar orbit, before a landing is attempted on Feb. 23. If there are rocket delays, which already have stalled both missions, either company could wind up there first.

The two companies have been nose to nose since receiving nearly $80 million each in 2019 under a NASA program to develop lunar delivery services. Astrobotic's four-legged, 6-foot-tall lander, named Peregrine, will carry 20 research packages to the moon for seven countries, including five for NASA. Peregrine will aim for the mid-latitudes' Sinus Viscositatis, or Bay of Stickiness, named after the long-ago silica magma that formed the nearby Gruithuisen Domes. Intuitive Machines' six-legged, 14-foot-tall lander, Nova-C, will target the moon's south polar region, also carrying five experiments for NASA that will last about two weeks. The company is targeting 80 degrees south latitude for touchdown.

(More moon landings stories.)

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