The lunar mission is a private effort, but is sponsored by NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which is a key part of the The agency’s efforts to return astronauts to the Moon. The initiative will allow NASA to award contracts to private companies to transport scientific instruments and other equipment to the lunar surface.
“We think this is a great approach to harnessing entrepreneurship and innovation in the American industrial base,” said Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.
Kearns said partnerships with commercial suppliers will allow NASA to launch more frequent and cost-effective missions to the moon.
The Peregrine lander is the first spacecraft to launch under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program. It will take five NASA instruments to the Moon, including meters to measure the radiation environment on the lunar surface and spectrometers to study the abundance of materials such as hydrogen.
The mission will also carry several other non-scientific items, including payloads for two companies, Elysium Space and Celestis, that offer “space burials” by carrying cremated remains to orbit or the moon.
Astrobotic’s involvement with Celestis and Elysium Space has been controversial. Buu Nygren, president of the Navajo Nation, said in a letter sent last month to NASA and the U.S. Department of Transportation that leaving human remains on the Moon would be “a profound desecration” of a celestial body that is sacred in many indigenous cultures.
John Thornton, Astrobotic’s chief executive, said in a news conference on Friday that he was “disappointed” that concerns had not been raised sooner, but added that the company is “trying to do the right thing.”
“I hope we can find a good path forward with the Navajo Nation,” he said.
If the Peregrine mission launches as scheduled on Monday, the lander will attempt to land on the moon on February 23. The spacecraft is expected to land at a site known as Sinus Viscositatiswhere ancient lava once flowed.
In a pre-launch briefing, Thornton said the Peregrine mission represents an important step for the commercial space industry in the United States. In particular, the flight could usher in a new era of space technology and innovation for Astrobotic and the city of Pittsburgh, Thornton said.
“We are bringing online a new space state,” he said. “Pittsburgh comes from steel and went through crises in the ’70s and ’80s and has since reinvented itself, and this mission is a representation that if Pittsburgh can land on the moon, Pittsburgh can do anything.”