Yesterday morning’s launch from Cape Canaveral marked the first American lunar mission since 1972. After an hour of flight and departure from Earth’s gravity, at just after 3 AM local time (9 AM in Italy), the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket sent the Peregrine spacecraft towards its destination, where it is expected to land around February 23rd

The “lander” was developed by Astrobotic Technology, based in Pittsburgh, and named after the fastest bird, the peregrine falcon. With NASA’s support, providing a funding of $108 million, the lander will conduct scientific experiments on the Moon on behalf of the U.S. space agency, as reported by CNN.

NASA aims to monitor lunar radiation to “aid in the preparation for future crewed missions.” In addition to NASA’s 5 scientific instruments, the spacecraft carries 15 others from various private companies in Mexico, the UK, and Germany (DHL). Once on the lunar surface, Peregrine is expected to operate for about ten days before the landing site plunges into darkness, cooling down and making further experiments impossible.

Onboard the Vulcan Centaur rocket, packaged separately from the Peregrine lander, was another payload organized by the space burial company Celestis. It consists of 265 capsules containing human remains and DNA samples, including those of former U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy, George Washington, and Dwight Eisenhower, as well as the “creator and various members of the original Star Trek TV series cast, along with an Apollo-era astronaut, alongside people from all walks of life, interests, and vocations,” according to the company’s website.

The Apollo astronaut whose remains are on the Enterprise flight is Philip Chapman, selected for the astronaut corps in 1967 but never flew to space. He passed away in 2021. The capsules are heading towards deep space, where they will spend eternity orbiting the sun, according to Celestis’ aspirations. Beyond its scientific and “funerary” purposes, the United Launch Alliance’s launch represents a milestone in space mission history. The company, founded in 2006 to keep both Boeing’s Delta rockets and Lockheed Martin’s Atlas rockets operational, now faces competition from another major private player in the field, Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The company has already announced plans for around seventy missions.

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