Hopes were high for the much-hyped first private US Moon lander mission, launched from Cape Canaveral earlier this month. But following a problem with a propellant valve, the Peregrine lander from Astrobotic didn’t make it to the Moon and instead burned up in Earth’s atmosphere, having failed to deliver its 20 payloads, including a number of NASA experiments.

This follows failed lunar landing attempts from companies based in Israel and Japan in 2019 and 2023, respectively. In fact, no private company has yet landed on the Moon.

The failure of the most recent mission is a blow but not entirely surprising, according to experts. Nor is it indicative that such private lunar launches won’t work in the future. Even so, despite the Apollo landings of the 1970s, the technological challenges of reaching the Moon remain significant.

“It’s still really hard to get to the Moon,” said Rebecca Boyle, author of Our Moon: How Earth’s Celestial Companion Transformed the Planet, Guided Evolution, and Made Us Who We Are. “It’s still super far away. Yes, we did it with more rudimentary technology 50 years ago, but the physics haven’t changed. It’s still really hard.”

For one thing, we’ve lost institutional knowledge as Apollo scientists and engineers have retired and passed on. But the most significant difference between lunar programs then and now is the amount of money being invested by the government into NASA. With a relatively smaller budget, the agency is turning to private companies to help its lunar ambitions.

“I think now the governments are not as involved,” said astrophysicist Ehud Behar of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. “They’re not as determined. And that’s maybe a good thing because the private sector is coming in and filling in that gap.”

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