Tonight’s SpaceX launch—if successful—will be major milestone towards Elon Musk’s plans to send humans to Mars

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Nova-C lander for the IM-1 mission stands prepared for launch on pad 39A on the Kennedy House Middle on February 13, 2024 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Paul Hennessy—Getty Photographs

One small step for man. A large one for SpaceX.

Barring climate or different delays, SpaceX is predicted this night to launch a privately-funded unmanned spacecraft constructed by Intuitive Machines in what will likely be the USA’ first return to the moon since 1972.

The mission—the place house startup Intuitive Machines will transport scientific devices for NASA and for business prospects to the South Pole area of the moon—is a key second for each U.S. house journey and particularly for Elon Musk, whose long-term imaginative and prescient for SpaceX is to ship people to Mars. SpaceX has turn into an indispensable a part of the business house trade below Musk, commonly transporting satellites into orbit for patrons and ferrying astronauts to the House Station. However Musk’s final aim is to “make humanity multi-planetary,” and SpaceX’s expertise touring to planets continues to be untested.

With the liftoff of SpaceX Falcon 9 and Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C moon lander on Tuesday night from NASA’s Kennedy House Middle in Florida, the mission that will get underway may ship key findings that U.S. corporations and NASA can use to finally begin transporting individuals to different planets. 


“Both the information we get or the precise location goes to finish up being our jumping-off level to ship individuals to Mars and to different planets after Mars,” Joel Kearns, deputy affiliate administrator for exploration in NASA’s science mission directorate, mentioned on a name with reporters on Tuesday afternoon.

However there’s lots that might go flawed at launch. Simply final month, house firm Astrobotic Expertise’s moon touchdown try was thwarted just a few hours after liftoff when its spacecraft skilled a propulsion system failure and misplaced an excessive amount of gas. Intuitive Machine’s mission this night required particular changes from SpaceX as a result of IM’s propulsion system, which requires a combination of liquid oxygen and liquid methane.

“This isn’t a simple mission for us,” Invoice Gerstenmaier, a SpaceX vp, mentioned on the decision Tuesday, noting that the corporate had added a fast disconnect onto the Falcon’s facet and that it has to super-cool each the liquid methane and liquid oxygen earlier than loading them into the spacecraft—one thing he says was “not trivial.” 

“There’s no assure of success on this mission,” Gerstenmaier mentioned on the decision. “However I can say we’ve labored extensively with Intuitive Machines to purchase down as a lot threat as we will.”

Ought to the launch go efficiently, Intuitive Machines’ spacecraft will land on the moon on Feb. 22, upon which NASA stereo cameras and different devices will examine the lunar floor on the South Pole area to assist enhance future touchdown precision and security and pave the best way for future Artemis astronaut missions. As a part of the mission, Intuitive Machines can also be carrying business devices into house for knowledge assortment.

Intuitive Machines began prepping for this mission in 2019, again when it was handed its first contract from NASA as a part of an initiative to pay personal corporations to ship its analysis devices to the moon. This particular contract is value a little bit below $118 million.

Now the spacecraft simply must launch and begin making its technique to the moon. “Climate is sweet. Autos are good. SpaceX is sweet. I feel we’re good for launch tonight,” Trent Martin, vp of house programs at Intuitive Machines, mentioned.

Do you may have an perception to share? Acquired a tip? Contact Jessica Mathews at jessica.mathews@fortune.com or by means of the safe messaging app Sign at 479-715-9553.

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