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First US lunar lander in more than 50 years rockets toward Moon

First US lunar lander in more than 50 years rockets toward Moon

The Peregrine spacecraft is making an historic trip to the Moon.

The first US Moon mission in over 50 years is now on its way to the moon.

It's a big deal, because the last time the US launched a moon-landing mission was in December 1972, when Apollo 17’s Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt became the 11th and 12th men to do a lunar walk.

That's not to say other countries haven't been making moves in space - in August last year India became the first country to land in the lunar south pole region, and Japan is hoping to make its first-ever moon landing later this month.

The Peregrine lander is en route to the Moon.
United Launch Alliance / NASA

The US lander is known as the Peregrine Mission One (PM1) and was built by the space company Astrobotic.

After hitching a ride on a brand new rocket, United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan, it's hoping to become the first private probe to land on the Moon's surface on February 23.

That is, unless it's beaten to the punch by a Houston company, which also has a lander ready to fly - and could take a more direct path to the Moon.

“So, so, so excited. We are on our way to the moon!” Astrobotic chief executive John Thornton said, as the Vulcan launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Monday.

“First to launch. First to land is TBD."

The Peregrine is carrying cargo from seven countries and 16 commercial customers.

They include the first lunar surface payloads from the Mexican and German space agencies, and the first lunar payloads from the UK, Hungary and Seychelles.

The Peregrine lunar lander even carries a chip of rock from Mount Everest.
PA Graphics

Among these commercial payloads are items you might not expect, including a time capsule, a bitcoin and even a music album.

NASA gave Astrobotic and the Houston company millions to build and fly their own lunar landers.

But why, when the space agency is so used to sending its own spacecraft out into the great unknown?

Well, things have changed since the Apollo missions - arguably NASA's golden era - and more collaboration is needed.

NASA wants the privately owned landers to scope out the lunar surface before astronauts arrive, delivering NASA tech and science experiments as well as odds and ends for other customers.

The data collected will contribute to our understanding of the Moon’s potential to provide resources such as water, opening new possibilities for future human presence on the lunar surface.

And NASA astronauts won't be far behind. The new Artemis program - named after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology - looks to return astronauts to the Moon's surface within the next few years. The first step will be a lunar fly-around with four astronauts, possibly before the end of the year.

Featured Image Credit: @ulalaunch/X