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Sun. Apr 21st, 2024

The United States launched the Vulcan Centaur rocket on a mission to the moon, marking the first American lunar landing attempt since 1972. Developed by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the towering rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 2:18 a.m. ET on Monday.

The Peregrine lunar lander, developed by Astrobotic Technology under a $108 million contract with NASA, separated from the rocket at 3 a.m. ET, commencing its journey to touch down on the moon’s surface by February 23. Among the 20 payloads on board, five are NASA science instruments, with the remaining 15 representing a diverse range of customers worldwide.

Controversy arose as the mission includes carrying human remains on behalf of commercial space burial companies Elysium Space and Celestis. The Navajo Nation opposed this, asserting that such actions would disrespect Indigenous cultures considering the moon sacred.

NASA-sponsored experiments on the lunar surface will include radiation monitoring instruments and analyses of lunar soil composition to detect water and hydroxyl molecules. Peregrine is expected to operate for up to 10 days before darkness renders its landing site too cold for further activity.

The Vulcan Centaur rocket, a pivotal development for United Launch Alliance, aims to replace Atlas and Delta rockets. Propelled by two side boosters and two US-made rocket engines from Blue Origin at its first-stage booster, Vulcan Centaur seeks to enhance ULA’s competitiveness, especially against SpaceX.

Despite facing delays, including setbacks in engine development and the destruction of an upper stage during testing, ULA CEO Tory Bruno expressed satisfaction with Vulcan Centaur’s development. The successful launch positions ULA for a potential transformation in the broader launch industry, with approximately 70 missions already lined up for the new rocket.

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