Over half a century since NASA left the Moon, the space agency surprised everybody in November 2023 when it announced it was placing scientific equipment on the lunar surface once more, hitching a lift on American space company Astrobotic's Peregrine lander.
After a successful launch on January 8, the world has been watching the first-ever private US mission to land on the Moon, especially as it got into trouble not long after lift-off. Unfortunately, it's looking pretty certain that NASA's equipment for searching for water ice and examining the lunar soil, as well as several other payloads from seven different countries, will not make it to the Moon. At least, not softly.
The spaceship hit trouble shortly after heading out of the Earth's atmosphere, leaving it unable to point its solar panels at the Sun. Astrobotic has now confirmed that there is "no chance" of a soft landing on the Moon.
"Astrobotic’s current hypothesis about the Peregrine spacecraft’s propulsion anomaly is that a valve between the helium pressurant and the oxidizer failed to reseal after actuation during initialization," the company said in an update.
"This led to a rush of high pressure helium that spiked the pressure in the oxidizer tank beyond its operating limit and subsequently ruptured the tank. While this is a working theory, a full analysis report will be produced by a formal review board made up of industry experts after the mission is complete."
As well as being a disappointing end to the Moon mission, the company is in the unusual position of telling the world that the remains and DNA of several Star Trek actors and a handful of US Presidents are now stranded in space. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and science fiction writer Arthur C Clarke are among those whose DNA was placed on board the spaceship, while the ashes of Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan and DeForest Kelley are also on board. Strands of hair from Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and George Washington represented the US Presidents on what was called the "Enterprise" payload. Ashes were also being sent to the Moon, courtesy of private space companies Elysium Space and Celestis.
Peregrine still has a little fuel left and is attempting to deliver the payloads it can – experiments on board that were not intended to land on the Moon. The company has not elaborated on which payloads it is focusing on, but the Enterprise payload was not destined for the Moon itself, but a solar orbit of 150 million to 300 million miles (241 million kilometers to 482 million kilometers) into deep space, past the orbit of Mars. It could be that this is one of the payloads the Peregrine lander is able to deliver but for now, we will have to wait and see.