After more than 50 years, a rocket left the USA and headed for the moon

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As they wait for clearer ideas on the future development of the Artemis mission—and as Japan prepares for the arrival of its SLIM probe on the lunar surface—the United States is taking a new, epochal step in the exploration of the moon, our satellite. In fact, more than 50 years after the last Apollo 17 mission, a rocket bound for the moon took off from American soil. It happened at 8:18 in the morning (Italian time) on January 8, 2024: the Vulcan United Launch Alliance rocket with the “Peregrine” probe of the private American company Astrobotic (funded by NASA) on board started its journey towards the Moon. It would be the first privately built lander to achieve this goal: another first for the mission.

And what happens now? If all goes according to plan, the probe will deposit 21 scientific instruments on the lunar surface on February 23, hopefully paving the way for a new “campaign” of discoveries.

This is therefore a really important moment. Why more than a month to reach the moon? A trajectory that uses the satellite’s gravity was chosen, which meant a longer duration, but which would allow the probe to approach the moon in a more “strategic” way.

There are several instruments on board to study some aspects of the Moon that are still mysterious

Among the instruments on board, the presence of LINX-UNAM in collaboration with Agencia Espacial Mexicana (AEM) stands out, which will be the first Latin American scientific instrument to reach the Moon. This includes 5 small rovers, each weighing less than 60 grams, that will perform autonomous and coordinated exploration tests of the lunar surface. In addition, students and professors at Carnegie Mellon University contributed to the creation of a rover called Iris, weighing approximately 2 kilograms, dedicated to geological exploration and mobility on the lunar terrain.

It shouldn’t exist! Mission Peregrine lands near “Gruithuisen domes”, whose rocks are a geological anomaly due to the fact that they are very similar in composition to granites, which theoretically should not exist on the moon. Instruments on board also include reflecting mirrors to measure the Earth-Moon distance, spectrometers to study the lunar surface, and instruments to analyze the very tenuous lunar atmosphere.

The probe carries the ashes of Star Trek protagonists

In addition to the scientific cargo, the mission also carries symbolic and memento items, including a Seychelles coin, messages from children around the world and – thanks to Celestis – 265 capsules containing cremated remains, DNA samples and messages from customers from all over the planet.

Among the transported ashes are those of the creator Star Trek Gene Roddenberry, his wife Majel Barrett Roddenberry and cast members such as Nichelle Nichols and James “Scotty” Doohan.

Why it’s important for the future of lunar exploration

The Peregrine is a complex aluminum alloy structure with gold foil covered fuel tanks. Equipped with five main engines and 12 ACS (Attitude and Control System) engines, the probe is designed to ensure precise maneuvers and complete control during the mission.

If all goes according to plan, similar missions could become a constant, transporting instruments to the moon seasonally and opening new frontiers in space exploration.



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