GOOD LUCK! America’s first post-Apollo moon lander launches: ScienceAlert

The US undertakes a return to the moon!

United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket successfully blasted off on Monday, Jan. 8, carrying a lunar module called Peregrine from the commercial company Astrobotic.

Aboard this lander are five NASA science payloads designed to collect in situ lunar data—the first NASA instruments sent to the Moon since the end of the Apollo era in 1972, more than 50 years ago.

The launch marks the first of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) — NASA’s collaboration with commercial companies to transport NASA science instruments to the Moon and test space exploration technology.

Artist’s rendering of the Peregrine lander. (Astrobotic)

“We are so excited to see this vision become a reality. CLPS is an innovative way to use American companies to send important science and technology payloads to the Moon,” said NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Nicola Fox.

“The moon is a rich destination for scientific discoveries. Studying and sampling the lunar environment will help NASA unlock some of our solar system’s greatest mysteries for the benefit of all.”

You can watch the launch live in the YouTube embed below or on NASA Plus.

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Peregrine will land in a region called the Sinus Viscositatis, or Gulf of Stickiness. The five science payloads on board are designed to sample and test a range of characteristics of the lunar environment.

The laser retroreflective matrix
The Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA) has eight retroreflectors inside. (NASA/GSFC)

LETS (Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer) will measure the radiation; NIRVSS (Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System) will study the composition, temperature and structure of the lunar soil; The NSS (Neutron Spectrometer System) will search for water; PITMS (Peregrine Ion-Trap Mass Spectrometer) will probe ions in the lunar atmosphere; and the LRA (Laser Retroreflector Array) will act as a new permanent location marker that will help scientists measure the Moon’s position many years into the future.

A near-infrared volatile spectrometric system
NIRVSS will measure the surface and subsurface hydration of the Moon as the instrument moves. (NASA)

In addition to NASA payloads, Astrbotic’s Peregrine lander will transport other science equipment, including two rovers, one from the German Aerospace Center (DLR), one from Carnegie Mellon University students, and a radiation detector also from DLR.

A bunch of non-scientific payloads will also be on board, including time capsules, artwork, a collection of short stories, Bitcoin of all things, and cremated human remains.

This latter inclusion has been the source of some controversy; the Navajo Nation objected to human ashes for spiritual reasons.

“The sacredness of the moon is deeply embedded in the spirituality and heritage of many Native cultures, including our own,” Navajo Nation Buu Nygren said in an official statement.

“Placing human remains on the moon is a profound desecration of this celestial body revered by our people. This act disregards past agreements and promises of respect and consultation between NASA and the Navajo Nation, particularly since the Lunar Prospector mission in 1998.”

Lunar Prospector carried planetary geologist Eugene Shoemaker’s ashes to the Moon, where they remain forever.

Nygren met with representatives of NASA and the White House, who apologized for the lack of consultation.

Controversies aside, the launch went on schedule.

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