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Pittsburgh Company To Play Major Role In NASA's Return To Moon

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Pittsburgh will be leading America when the United States returns to the moon for the first time in 50 years.

Local space robotics company Astrobotic has been tapped by NASA to do a crucial job in the 2020 mission. NASA awarded Astrobotic a $10 million grant to create a precision landing system for their spacecraft, Peregrine. This means Peregrine will land on the moon within 100 meters of its target.

Once Peregrine touches down, that's only the beginning of what it's set to do.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

It's space exploration history in the making, in Pittsburgh's Strip District.

"We are making Pittsburgh a spacefaring city," said John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic.

The company's goal is making the moon accessible to the world.

"There's vast quantities of water. When the Apollo astronauts went to the surface of the moon, they landed in the equator of the moon and declared it was dry. That would be like landing on the Earth's Sahara Desert and declaring the Earth was dry," said Thornton.

Astrobotic's lunar lander Peregrine is designed to experiment even further.

"Potentially, this spacecraft could be the first thing to show that we can produce water fuel from the moon and potentially turn the moon into a refueling station for spacecraft to go deeper and deeper into space," Thornton said.

As the experiments are happening, the world will be able to watch.

"It's not going to be the grainy pictures of Apollo. This is going to be live HD video streaming from the surface of the moon," said Thornton.

Peregrine will also be delivering payloads.

"We've got rovers that are going to be dropping and driving off into the distance. We have time capsules from various companies all over the world. We've got one in particular from Japan that has more than 100,000 kids signed up to send their dreams to the surface of the moon," said Thornton.

Before the mission to the moon, Astrobotic will be doing a mission to the International Space Station. They will be sending a sensor that will float through it and listen for any changes.

"NASA has been a great partner of Astrobotic for years. We've now collected 28 NASA contracts to date since our founding," said Thornton.

The biggest of which is for the precision landing system.

"Then, you can go to a crater of interest, go find a resource hot spot, or land next to potentially some old hardware, like the Apollo sites," said Thornton.

Astrobotic will be doing the precision landing without the use of GPS. The system they created uses cameras instead that look at the features of the moon and then matches them to an onboard map.

There is no set launch date yet, but they are targeting the end of 2020.

"If Pittsburgh can land on the moon, Pittsburgh can do anything," said Thornton.

Astrobotic is still accepting payloads for the moon mission.  If you would like to learn more, or read about the company's DHL Moonbox Program, visit their website here.

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