The historic Peregrine lunar lander is no more; according to Astrobotic, their spacecraft re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere late Thursday, with much of it expected to burn-up over the Pacific Ocean. If any remnants survived to the Earth’s surface, they would have crashed into the South Pacific Ocean south of the Fiji islands around 4pm Eastern Time yesterday. While the spacecraft wasn’t manned, it was carrying the remains of many people that were initially destined to have their final resting space on the Moon’s surface.
This was the first lander that launched as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. NASA had paid $108 million to secure spots for five of its payloads among a total of 20 onboard the lander. Four of NASA’s systems were able to be activated during the spacecraft’s short flight: NSS (Neutron Spectrometer System, LETS (Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer), PITMS (Peregrine Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer), and NIRVSS (Near Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System).
The lunar lander was also carrying the the Celestis Tranquility Flight, a memorial payload carrying the remains of almost 70 people from around the world.
Peregrine was launched on the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket’s maiden voyage on January 8. The Centaur stage was deliver Peregrine to a Trans-lunar Injection (TLI) point, where the lander was to complete its flight to the Moon and power itself to touchdown near the Guithuisen Domes, on the northeastern edge of the Oceans Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, where the Tranquility Flight Capsules will rest in eternal repose. But that didn’t happen as planned.
Shortly after the lander successfully separated from the Vulcan rocket in lunar injection orbit, a fault occurred that prevented it from completing its mission. According to Astrobotic, a fuel leak developed. After six days in orbit, the spacecraft was directed back into Earth’s atmosphere for a controlled, albeit destructive, ending to its flight and mission.
“Astrobotic has positioned the Peregrine spacecraft for a safe, controlled re-entry to Earth over a remote area of the South Pacific. The team has been continuously monitoring our re-entry analysis with NASA, which indicates a re-entry path over the indicated area below, with no anticipated hazards. A safe re-entry is our top priority, so the team developed a two-step maneuver to move the spacecraft and change its projected trajectory,” wrote Astrobotic in a press release ahead of the mission end.
While the Celestis memorial payload “Tranquility” was lost, the same isn’t true for “Enterprise” flight. Attached to the primary rocket and not the lunar lander, the remains of 265 famous figures, including Presidents George Washington and John F. Kennedy, Star Trek cast members Nichelle Nichols who played Lieutenant Nyota Uhura and James Doohan who played Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, and even Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry are on their way to deep space. While Peregrine experienced trouble, the mission to send these remains deep into space wasn’t impacted.
“We’re very pleased to be fulfilling, with this mission, a promise I made to Majel Barrett Roddenberry in 1997 that one day we would fly her and husband Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry together on a deep space memorial spaceflight,” said Celestis Co-Founder and CEO Charles M. Chafer. “We look forward to launching this historic mission on a rocket named Vulcan, ” he said prior to the successful launch.
“We are honored that Celestis has selected ULA to launch this important mission,” said Bruno at the time of launch partner selection. “What a fitting tribute to the Roddenberry family and the Star Trek fans to be a part of the maiden flight of Vulcan, our next-generation rocket.”
Established in 1994, Celestis Memorial Spaceflights offers many memorial options for cremated remains to be launched to the stars. Small capsules which contain remains have the opportunity to be sent to the edge of the atmosphere before returning to Earth, orbit the Earth for a period of time, sent to the moon, or even be launched deep into space. Loved ones have the chance to both retrieve and display the remains once they return or track them on their eternal journey as they leave Earth forever.
For more than 20 years, Celestis has been conducting these missions to honor peoples’ final wishes. Clients have included people from all walks of life, as well as leaders in science and exploration, the aerospace industry, NASA, entertainment & film, education, and military service. According to the Celestis website, space memorials start at $5,000. While space debris is a growing concern, Celestis says that their “missions are governed by international treaty and US law” and add that their “services do not contribute to orbital debris, do not generate distracting light pollution, or otherwise adversely affect the space environment.”