Last week, the space world watched in horror and disbelief as the first U.S. lunar lander since Apollo lifted off for the moon and immediately met trouble. Unfortunately, Peregrine soon found itself struggling as a propellant leak eventually forced Astrobotic to reroute the lander for Earth, where it found assured destruction as it burned up during re-entry.
While not the most exciting end to one of 2024’s most anticipated space missions, the destruction of Astrobotic’s iconic lander was probably for the best and was even spurred on by NASA, according to certain reports.
See, Peregrine was Astrobotic’s first space mission. As such, the company is still very much learning things as it goes. Which is perfectly fine. However, when the Peregrine lander found itself facing destruction during its mission, Astrobotic turned to NASA.
According to John Thornton, the CEO of Astrobotic, NASA’s recommendation was to send the lander back to Earth, where it could safely be disposed of as it burned up during re-entry. (via Ars Technica)
Sure, they could have tried to make it to the moon. In fact, the propellant leak that caused all of the hubbub seemed to have stopped by the time the spacecraft shifted around.
Moving Peregrine away from its flight path back to Earth, where it could find destruction safely, would have required firing the main engines, though. And doing that could have possibly caused the entire thing to explode, showering the space around the Moon with debris.
With the upcoming Artemis missions still in the works, pumping a ton of debris into space around the Moon probably isn’t the smartest move. That’s why NASA recommended letting Peregrine burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. Sure, it meant the mission failed. But it also meant later missions wouldn’t have to avoid debris on their journeys to the Moon.