On January 8, 2024, the world witnessed a remarkable effort by NASA and Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology to land a spacecraft on the Moon. It was the first US attempt at the lunar surface since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. The Peregrine Lunar Lander was launched into Earth's orbit without a hitch. Its final destination was an unexplored area on the western rim of the Moon's largest impact crater.
Thanks to a fun collaboration between Astrobotic and global delivery company DHL, the spacecraft carried a cargo of small items from individuals and organizations. They included a rock from Mount Everest, a time capsule from Belgium, and even a physical token of the digital currency, Dogecoin. There was also a letter from private astronaut Richard Garriott and 100,000 photos submitted as part of DHL's "Who do you love to the Moon and back?" campaign.
But just hours after the launch, Peregrine had a fuel leak. It soon became apparent that the spacecraft would not be able to complete its mission. On January 18, 2024, Astrobotic reported that Peregrine had burned up after crashing into Earth's thick atmosphere over a remote area of the South Pacific Ocean. The spacecraft's light metal construction made it unlikely that any fragments reached Earth.
While the mission's failure was a setback, Astrobotic is not concerned. The company's engineers were able to gather valuable data from the lander's instruments before it crashed. They believe the information will help them determine what went wrong and fix the issues before the next launch in November 2024.
Americans are not the only ones heading to the Moon. On January 19, 2024, Japan became the fifth nation in the world to land a spacecraft on the lunar surface. Unfortunately, the lander's solar panels failed to generate electricity as expected. Within three hours of the historic touchdown, its battery power dropped to just 12 percent. Officials have shut down the spacecraft. However, they remain optimistic about its revival.
"If sunlight hits the moon from the west in the future, we believe there's a possibility of power generation, and we're currently preparing for restoration," the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said in a statement.
Resources: Space.com, LiveScience.com, CBSnews.com