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

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

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

The mission—the place house startup Intuitive Machines will transport scientific devices for NASA and for industrial 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 out to be an indispensable a part of the industrial house business beneath Musk, commonly transporting satellites into orbit for purchasers and ferrying astronauts to the Area 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 Area Heart in Florida, the mission that will get underway may ship key findings that U.S. firms and NASA can use to finally begin transporting folks to different planets.

“Both the data we get or the precise location goes to finish up being our jumping-off level to ship folks 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 loads that might go fallacious at launch. Simply final month, house firm Astrobotic Know-how’s moon touchdown try was thwarted a couple of 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 consequence of IM’s propulsion system, which requires a mix of liquid oxygen and liquid methane.

“This isn’t a straightforward 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 is not any assure of success on this mission,” Gerstenmaier mentioned on the decision. “However I can say we have labored extensively with Intuitive Machines to purchase down as a lot threat as we are able to.”

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 way in which for future Artemis astronaut missions. As a part of the mission, Intuitive Machines can also be carrying industrial 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 firms to ship its analysis devices to the moon. This particular contract is value just a little beneath $118 million.

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

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This story was initially featured on Fortune.com

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