Credit By: Science Times
In a historic moment, United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket successfully launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, carrying the groundbreaking Peregrine lunar lander. This launch signifies the first commercial lander aiming to touch down on the moon and marks the United States’ return to lunar landing missions since 1972.
The Peregrine Lunar Lander
Developed by Astrobotic Technology under a $108 million contract with NASA, the Peregrine lunar lander is poised to make history with a planned moon landing on February 23. Astrobotic CEO John Thornton expressed excitement during the webcast, emphasizing the 16-year journey leading to this pivotal moment.
NASA’s involvement in the mission goes beyond funding Peregrine’s development. Among the 20 payloads Peregrine carries, five are NASA science instruments focusing on radiation monitoring and lunar soil analysis. The remaining 15 payloads include contributions from various nations, a UK-based robotics experiment, and unique items from the German shipping company DHL.
Controversially, Peregrine is transporting human remains for commercial space burial companies Elysium Space and Celestis. This decision has faced opposition from the Navajo Nation, the largest group of Native Americans, who consider the moon sacred. Despite the controversy, Celestis offers a unique service to carry ashes to the moon, with prices starting at over $10,000.
Enterprise Flight: A Celestial Journey
Accompanying the Peregrine lander on the Vulcan Centaur rocket is another payload from Celestis, named the Enterprise Flight. This payload contains 265 capsules with human remains and DNA samples, including those of former US presidents and individuals from various walks of life. The Enterprise Flight is destined for deep space, which will orbit the sun for eternity.
Significance of the Vulcan Centaur Rocket
Beyond the lunar mission’s scientific and symbolic importance, the launch of ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket is noteworthy. With around 70 missions already lined up, the success of Vulcan Centaur could revolutionize ULA’s position in the competitive launch industry. The rocket, designed to replace ULA’s Atlas and Delta rockets, features a significant change in its first stage. It utilizes two US-made rocket engines developed by Blue Origin and funded by Jeff Bezos.
Despite delays in its development, including setbacks related to engine delays and a destroyed upper stage during testing, ULA’s CEO, Tory Bruno, expressed confidence in the orderly and well-executed progress of the Vulcan Centaur program. As the rocket soared through the skies, early indications suggested it operated as intended, marking a promising start to its mission.
The successful launch of the Vulcan Centaur rocket carrying the Peregrine lunar lander represents a significant milestone in space exploration. As the mission unfolds and Peregrine prepares for its historic moon landing, the event opens new possibilities for commercial lunar exploration. It reinforces the United States’ commitment to space exploration after several decades.
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