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HomeGeneralNASA Announces New Moon Landing Attempt With IM-1 Mission

NASA Announces New Moon Landing Attempt With IM-1 Mission

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The Houston-based company Intuitive Machines, in collaboration with NASA, will be launching its first mission to the moon. It will happen atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Should it succeed, it would make Intuitive Machines the first commercial company in history to land on the moon. And it will also help catapult the US into the 21st-century space race as it has fallen behind. 

NASA was the first to land on the moon in 1969. But it hasn’t returned anything to the lunar surface in the 21st century. Indeed, unlike China, India, and Japan, the US has not put anything on the moon in more than five decades.

In January, NASA tried collaborating with the company Astrobotic to launch the Peregrine mission to the moon. However, the lander never made it due to a faulty valve. It resulted in a fuel leak that forced them to call off the mission mid-flight.

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Fortunately, NASA already had its next attempt in the works. Through a $118 million contract, it sponsors Intuitive Machines to launch its first mission toward the moon, called IM-1. The mission’s Nova-C lander should descend to the lunar surface just one week later, on February 22.

Suppose Nova-C, a hexagonal cylinder about 14 feet tall and 5 feet wide, can touch down. In that case, NASA will get a chance to study the lunar surface with the six science instruments it has aboard, including a laser-based navigation system and a mini radio telescope test.

With a few exceptions, NASA’s model for future deep-space exploration includes contracting commercial entities to do the hard engineering and then hitching a ride with its science. The strategy is yet to put anything on the lunar surface for NASA. But that could change next week, even though a lot could go wrong.

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Nailing a moon landing is very difficult. India could only achieve the feat a few years after crashing on its first attempt and a few days after Russia attempted and crashed.

Japan joined the ranks of 21st-century moon-goers in January. However, its spacecraft landed upside-down. So many spacecraft have crashed on the moon and success next week would make Intuitive Machines the first commercial company to ever land on the moon.

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“Spaceflight is hard. A million things have to go right, and if one thing goes wrong, you can still have a failure,” Trent Martin, vice president of space systems at Intuitive Machines, said in a NASA press briefing last month.

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“I can’t say that we’ve solved every problem,” he added, “but we certainly have looked at, as much as we can, the lessons that we’ve learned over the last four or five years as various missions have attempted to land on the moon.”

Furthermore, NASA and Intuitive Machines are aiming closer to the moon’s south pole than has ever been explored. The area is coveted real estate as space-faring nations race to establish permanent bases on the moon.

That’s because astronauts can launch toward Mars from the surface of the moon. But this will only succeed if they can mine the water frozen in permanently shadowed craters around the lunar south pole.

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In theory, anyone could produce fresh rocket fuel on-site with that water. However, the lunar territory is first-come, first-serve. As things stand, only India has landed in the lunar south pole region.

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