Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024|
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Photo credit: Intuitive Machines — The IM-1 Nova-C lander in Houston, Texas.
What could be the first successful independent private commercial mission to the moon will take off next week with a small piece of Hawaii onboard.
Early on Valentine’s Day in Florida — or late Feb. 13 in Hawaii — a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch from Kennedy Space Center.
Should all go well, on Feb. 22, the rocket will deposit on the moon a lunar lander carrying several instruments, including two from the Waimea-based International Lunar Observatory.
The mission, called IM-1, is the second mission of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services, a program that contracts private companies to send landers and rovers to the moon.
After the failure of the program’s first mission in January — a propellant leak aboard the spacecraft prevented it from leaving Earth’s orbit and it ultimately burned up in the atmosphere — IM-1 could become the first successful American moon landing since the end of NASA’s Apollo program in 1972.
“I’m feeling cautious, guarded optimism,” said ILOA Director Steve Durst on Thursday. “I think the line is ‘10,000 things can go wrong.’”
The two ILOA instruments aboard the rover are a pair of cameras, one narrow-field and one wide-field, which will be used to take the first-ever photograph of the Milky Way Galaxy from the surface of the moon, Durst said.
The although both cameras were built in Canada, one has unique ties to the Big Island: The narrow-field camera was named by a Kealakehe Intermediate School student during a 2022 contest. (An ILOA spokeswoman declined to name the student.)
The camera’s name, Ka ‘Imi, means “to search.”
“Ka ‘Imi is a perfect name for this camera since it will be (Hawaii’s) first mission to the moon,” said ILOA board member James Kimo Keli‘i Pihana in a statement. “As human beings, we are beginning again to return to the moon. As Hawaiians, we are returning to Hina, the goddess.”
Durst said the launch was originally scheduled to take place in November 2021, but was delayed for a variety of reasons.
“It’s been a shared experience in perseverance,” Durst said.
Should the flight be successful — although Durst noted that the landing is always harder than the launch — the lander should be operational for about seven or eight days until lunar nightfall. During that time, Durst said, Ka ‘Imi will focus on imaging the Milky Way and making other observations, though he added the cameras also will take some pictures during the flight itself.
Ultimately, Durst said the mission is a precursor to a future ILOA mission called ILO-1, which would place a small observatory near the moon’s south pole.
“I hope this can be a renaissance, a reinvigoration of Hawaii astronomy,” Durst said. “I hope a lot of good comes out of it.”
The launch is scheduled to take place at 7:57 p.m. HST on Tuesday, Feb. 13. Should the launch be delayed, a backup launch window will be scheduled in March.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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