Pittsburgh’s ambassadors to space are ready to return America to the moon

Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander launches this year from Florida carrying NASA payloads

Astrobotic's Peregrine moon lander. (Image: Astrobotic)
Astrobotic's Peregrine moon lander. (Image: Astrobotic) (WKMG 2021)

Several private companies launching moon landers later this year from Florida will kick off a grand campaign to better understand our nearest neighbor, with big implications for when NASA returns humans to the moon in a few short years.

Both Astrobotic and Intuitive Machine are months away from launching the first American missions to land on the moon since 1972. The companies were selected under NASA’s commercial lunar payload services, or CLIPS, program.

Astrobotic CEO John Thornton joined the WKMG and Graham Media Group podcast, “Space Curious,” to talk about the Peregrine lander slated to launch on a United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur rocket from Cape Canaveral.

“Pittsburgh can barely believe that there’s a moon company in town here,” Thornton said of its headquarters located a couple blocks from Heinz Field.

While the hometown of the Steelers may not be a normal “space town” like Houston or Cape Canaveral, Thornton said Astrobotic is “proud to be the ambassadors of space to Pittsburgh” and they consider themselves the “poster child of space” for Pennsylvania.

Founded in 2007 with the goal of becoming the first private company to land on the moon and win a $20 million Google Lunar XPrize, the team quickly realized its mission was more than going after the prize winnings.

“And over time, we settled on the lunar delivery model. We actually made the world’s first lunar payload sale to a company in Japan. And then that led to another one and another one and another one,” Thornton said. “And then just last year, NASA came in with a big $80 million contract to take their payloads to the surface of the moon. And they came in again this year with a $200 million contract to take additional payloads to the surface of the moon on a second subsequent mission.”

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