A mission to send the first U.S. lander to the moon in five decades has launched successfully from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Peregrine Mission 1, operated by Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology, is also aiming to become the first to successfully achieve a soft touchdown of a privately built lunar lander.
If that wasn’t enough, the flight also involves the first-ever launch of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket, which is replacing its Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy launchers.
The Peregrine mission departed Kennedy on time at 2:18 a.m. ET on Monday morning (11:18 p.m. PT Sunday night).
In a live stream of the event, Megan Cruz of NASA Communications described the launch as “a magnificent sight, really lighting up the night sky,” adding that it was “loud enough to set off a couple of car alarms nearby.”
Below, you can see a rerun of the broadcast, beginning with the Vulcan Centaur rising into the sky for the first time, with the Peregrine lunar lander safely concealed in the fairing at the top of the rocket.
The Peregrine Lunar Lander is about the size of a storage shed and is the first U.S. lander to be sent to the moon since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. Peregrine is carrying with it various scientific payloads designed to take a slew of readings of the lunar environment during the lander’s 192 hours of operation after it reaches the moon on Friday, February 23. The mission will also test the functionality of advanced solar arrays.
Peregrine Mission 1 is part of NASA’s new CLIPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) program, which involves the space agency contracting private firms to send science missions to the moon ahead of the first Artemis crewed landing, which could take place next year.
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NASA’s Juno spacecraft, currently in orbit around Jupiter, will soon be making a close flyby of one of the planet’s most dramatic moons, Io. On Saturday, December 30, Juno will come within 1,000 miles of Io, making it the closest spacecraft to that moon in the last 20 years.
Io is an intriguing place because it shows signs of significant volcanic activity, making it the most geologically active body in the solar system. It hosts over 400 active volcanoes, which periodically erupt due to hot magma inside the moon created by friction caused by the gravitational pull between Jupiter and its other large moons.
See the passing of a day on Mars with the Curiosity rover
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That means that any communications signals passing between the two planets would have to pass close to the harsh solar environment, where they would likely be degraded. To avoid any risk of garbled communications sending dangerous signals to the rovers, NASA stopped sending commands to both its Curiosity and Perseverance rovers until the solar conjunction passed.
Hubble snaps an image of dark spokes in Saturn’s rings
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These spokes were first observed over 40 years ago by the Voyager 2 spacecraft, but they continue to be something of a mystery. They seem to be linked to seasons on the planet, which are seven years long, and to the planet’s magnetic field. A newly released image taken by Hubble in October this year shows the spokes as dark patches on the rings, observed as part of a program called Hubble’s Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy (OPAL), which tracks them as they move.