Two private companies will attempt the first moon landing in 50 years—and neither one is SpaceX

By Chris Morris,
Published by Yahoo News, 5 January, 2024

Elon Musk might have his eyes on Mars, but as he focuses on the Red Planet, two private aerospace companies are planning to return the U.S. to the moon for the first time since 1972.

Pittsburgh’s Astrobotic Technology will send off its lander Monday, Jan. 8, aboard United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan. The lander carries 20 payloads, including five from NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, along with several items of artwork and historical artifacts.

Next month, Intuitive Machines, out of Houston, hopes to launch its lander. It will use a SpaceX rocket to leave orbit, before landing on its own.

Both companies are vying to be the first private entities to successfully land a ship on the moon. Owing to the complexities of space travel, Intuitive Machines might win that race, but launch delays and other factors could impact that.

NASA is supporting both private space companies as it keeps its focus on sending astronauts back to the moon. Private companies can act as delivery vehicles and scouts to deliver necessary supplies and find optimal landing zones.

NASA’s Artemis 3 mission hopes to land on the lunar South Pole, with the assistance of SpaceX’s Starship, returning humans to the surface of the moon. The trip would occur no earlier than late this year, but no timeline has been presented yet.

The moon, of course, isn’t the final destination. NASA hopes, long term, to learn the best ways to live, work, and survive in hostile outer-space conditions. That will make crewed missions to Mars feasible by the mid-2030s.

“Extraordinary men and women throughout history have strived to accomplish ‘the impossible’ and succeeded. Sometimes ‘the impossible’ is impossible until the moment it’s done for the first time, at which point it becomes ‘the inevitable.’ That’s why [the Peregrine lander] is going to the moon,” Astrobotic wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Both companies are already planning second missions to the moon’s South Pole, with Astrobotic planning to bring NASA’s water-hunting Viper rover and Intuitive Machines bringing an ice drill.

Ice on the moon’s South Pole is expected to be used to make rocket fuel and allow astronauts to drink.

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