Peregrine Mission On
The liftoff of Peregrine Mission One.
Hap Griffin

Space is hard, even when you don’t leave the ground. Sometimes you reach your target, but you land sideways, as the recent SLIM and Odysseus lunar landers did. Sometimes you shoot for the Moon and miss altogether. But you can’t fail if you never try.

Back in January, we rode the wild rollercoaster that was the Peregrine One lunar lander mission. After long years of development and numerous launch delays, Astrobotic’s lander was loaded onto a Vulcan Centaur rocket from United Launch Alliance for its launch window in the wee hours of the morning of January 8.

I took a nap after dinner so I could stay up to watch the launch. It was the Vulcan’s first launch, which made me a little nervous — first launches of explosive vehicles don’t always go so well. I was on my feet, rocking back and forth, as the clock counted down. But the rocket lifted off without a hitch! I wept as the Vulcan and its payload hurtled into the sky. Because I was too excited to sleep, I stayed up to watch Peregrine One’s separation from the second stage, and then for the acquisition of signal. I went to bed feeling, well, over the Moon.

As part of the Writers on the Moon (WOTM) project, my digital files were included in the Peregrine’s MoonBox payload. WOTM created a lunar time capsule filled with the thoughts and works of 125 authors and creative “stowaways.” I’d gotten lucky in a lottery to join the project, paid my share of the costs, and submitted my digital materials in 2021. Something of mine — something of me — was headed not just into space, but to the Moon!  I’d selected photos of family and friends to complete my payload portion. As the biggest space nerd in my Class of ’88, I was especially thrilled to tell my former math teacher, Barbara Bass, that her photo was going to the Moon.

But the morning brought troubling news. Peregrine One wasn’t orienting toward the Sun as needed to use of its solar panels, and the lander’s battery was running low. Astrobotic raced to upload corrections before the lander went into an expected loss of signal. There was speculation about a problem with the propulsion system, which could prevent a soft lunar landing.

It wasn’t looking good.

Over the following hours, the updates see-sawed back and forth between hopeful and devastating. In the end, a critical loss of fuel meant the lander would miss the Moon entirely.

But even when seemingly everything goes wrong, something can still go right.

Undaunted, the teams at Astrobotic embraced the opportunity to re-task the lander in new and surprising ways. They powered up the lander’s active payloads — including Colmena, Mexico’s first project to operate in cislunar space, and NSS and LETS which measured radiation around the Earth and the Moon.

These teams gathered so much data! They reframed the “failed” mission to take full advantage of what the spacecraft could still do, dreaming up previously unimagined ways to harness and adapt its capabilities.

As we learned that the decision had been made to send the Peregrine One to burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere — so as not to interfere with other missions and orbiting satellites — I realized I've got a lot in common with the little lander. While we were both launched with specific intentions, we weren’t able to meet expectations due to our construction and forces beyond our control: For Peregrine One, it was the propulsion system; for me, it's chronic pain, chronic illness, and autism. Instead, we both got out there to do our own spectacular thing.

Back in college, I saw a refrigerator magnet that read, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.” I’ve hung onto that wisdom in the decades since, determined to learn from disappointment rather than be defeated by it. In this, Peregrine One was a successful failure.

The little lander also captured the affection of millions around the world as it burned through its reimagined life.  The iconic “Death and the Dog” cartoon by seebangnow was re-memed with Peregrine One, asking, “Did I land on the Moon?” to which Death replies, “No. You landed in our hearts.”

There have been more recent Moon launches since Peregrine One. I stayed up late again for the launch of the Intuitive Machines Odysseus mission and later watched live during the landing, though Odysseus tipped over on its side. I also kept abreast of the progress of Japan’s SLIM lander, another side-lying landing but a survivor of the lunar night.

No matter the outcome, Peregrine One remains an important project. That I got to participate in a literal moonshot electrifies me to my core. Even after the mission ended in the Earth’s atmosphere, my skin tingles at the very idea that I was a partner in this endeavor.

But nobody’s giving up — that would be a true failure. We learn from experience, we work the problems, and we give it another shot. Astrobotic will try again. And WOTM has already bought more payload space.




You must be logged in to post a comment.