FOR THE WEEK OF FEB. 26, 2024
New era in space: Flying to the moon is a business for private companies now
Summarize other science or tech coverage and include an amazing fact.
Read another piece of distant news – from here on Earth – and show where it's from on a map or globe.
List at least two school subjects used often by rocket scientists.
An American spacecraft that reached the moon last Thursday is the first of its kind – a privately owned lunar lander named Odysseus. The commercial spaceship, owned by a Houston company and launched Feb. 15 aboard a rocket from another firm (Elon Musk’s Space X), delivered cameras, a laser reflector and a sensor to measure the moon's plasma environment. In addition to six scientific payloads for the space agency, the robot craft carried cargo for non-government clients – including one that envisions storing digital records on the moon. Odysseus, named for a mythical Greek god, marks the first U.S. moon landing since 1972 and is at the forefront of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. More private moon missions come this year.
Fourteen companies pay to participate in the initiative, aimed at creating a market for science, exploration and technology development on the moon and in lunar orbit. NASA seeks more information about the environment there and especially values the private payments to support future crewed missions under the Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman astronaut on the moon by 2026.
Some of the private ventures will provide lander services for universities, research firms or foreign space agencies. Deliveries scheduled this year and next include a water-hunting robot, a navigation system that works like a GPS device, instruments to probe the moon's interior and sample containers that will collect soil. One unusual business, Celestis Memorial Spaceflight of Houston, will send cremated (burned) human remains to the moon in small tubes. (It already charges $13,000 to launch ashes into lunar orbit.)
NASA says: "This is an innovative way of leveraging American companies to send important science and technology payloads to the moon. Studying and sampling the lunar environment will help NASA unravel some of the greatest mysteries of our solar system." -- Nicola Fox, associate administrator, D.C. at agency headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Science writer says: "What may feel like a compelling next step for humanity's cosmic ambitions also portends a dismaying future where the moon becomes a hotbed of unregulated human enterprise that will irreversibly transform it." – Rebecca Boyle, in New York Times guest column last month
Last astronauts on moon: America's last manned lunar mission was in December 1972, when Apollo 17 crew members Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent three days there.
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