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Lunar lander's failure doesn't spell end to moon missions

One American effort to get back to the moon for the first time in more than 50 years is coming to an end.
Lunar lander's failure doesn't spell end to moon missions
Posted at 2:21 PM, Jan 18, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-18 16:22:54-05

It was designed to be a triumphant return to the moon — the first American lander to go there since 1972. However, it was not to be, and is now the latest setback as both NASA and private companies try to get to the moon together.

The company behind the Peregrine moon lander is Astrobotic Technology, a Pittsburgh-based company. 

Scripps News was there this past March, as engineers worked on building the lander, which was seen as a way for the Keystone State, Pennsylvania — as well as nearby Ohio and West Virginia — to stake a claim in the space race. 

"I know it's one that a lot of people in the community, those in Pittsburgh and the entire tri-state region, have really felt connected with," said Zoë Karabinus, project director for the Keystone Space Collaborative. 

Shortly after launching, the lander developed a critical fuel leak. While it doomed the mission, it did not dim hopes.

"While much of the nation and the world is focused on Astrobotic and this Peregrine mission, I can assure you there's a lot to come and this won't slow us down at all," Karabinus said.

Peregrine was the first moon lander to launch as part of NASA's CLPS program (Commercial Lunar Payload Services), in which the agency is paying private companies to take its payloads to the moon. Its contract with Astrobotic is worth $108 million.

"It's very unfortunate, obviously, that the first one had such an issue," said Addie Dove, a University of Central Florida associate professor and part of the Planetary Sciences Group.

Dove is part of a team recently awarded a $35 million grant from NASA to try and land a spacecraft on a part of the moon that has never been visited before: the Gruithuisen Domes. 

"One of the things about the CLPS program is that it's a high-risk program," Dove said. "They know that these are companies that are building things that's something we've never done before, and so there is tolerance within NASA for problems."

In the meantime, NASA plans to get humans back onto the moon surface through its Artemis mission, but it recently announced that is now delayed by nearly a year, to 2026. For future moon missions, plans may be delayed, but not derailed.

"I think that there still is a lot of optimism," Dove said.

Moving forward, a private aerospace company in Houston is set to launch its own moon lander in February.

SEE MORE: Moonwalk delayed to 2026; NASA postpones next 2 Artemis missions


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