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One of these landers, built by the company Astrobotic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was anticipated to take off in early May, but delays in readying its rocket means the launch will probably slide by several months at least. That could mean that a lunar lander from Intuitive Machines, in Houston, Texas, is first up to launch, perhaps as early as June.

Source: Nature Moon mission failure: why is it so hard to pull off a lunar landing?

What does "is first up to launch" mean here? I've checked up the meaning of the phrase "UP TO (DOING) SOMETHING" in Cambridge English Dictionary, which explains "to be doing something, often something bad or illegal, usually secretly: She's up to no good (= doing something bad or forbidden)", but Intuitive Machines doesn't seem to be doing something bad or illegal. The best guess I've got now is that IM's launch will be forced to be the first (they don't want to be the first, yet the situation forces them). What does it really mean?

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    I think it's something of an Americanism. In British English we'd just say something like "it's due to launch first". Apr 30, 2023 at 17:36
  • @Mark Setchell: I'm not certain about that. The OALD gives it as British English, though their use is a sentence adverbial where here it's an adverb of to be.
    – Matthew
    May 1, 2023 at 10:15

2 Answers 2

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You have misanalysed the words. They are not a phrase.

It would be perfectly intelligible to say,

[it] is first up

which means it is the first to be brought up.

This, however, might be ambiguous. It could be first up to consider for launching, as a baseball player is first up to hit. Therefore, the sentence adds, to distinguish what it is doing, that it is first up

to launch

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  • What has also contributed to the confusion of my understanding it is the tone of certainty of "is first up to launch." Because the previous content already introduced that the company Astrobotic planned to take off in early May but has to postpone the launch; the postponing is a probability while the "is first up" is a certainty. The logic of expression might be too loose to accept.
    – NewPlanet
    Apr 30, 2023 at 3:32
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    I also immediately thought that this is a carry over from baseball: first up to bat. Upvote.
    – Kaz
    Apr 30, 2023 at 10:11
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    Mine too. “First up” is now widely used to mean first to do a thing or to receive a service. “Next up” is analogous. Apr 30, 2023 at 23:29
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    I'm pretty sure this has to do with the order in which batters hit in baseball. The first player to do so is "first up", which comes from "stepping up to the plate". Being "first up" means they will have their turn to do something before others do - in terms of a sequence of events or a schedule.
    – Wyck
    May 1, 2023 at 0:49
  • @Wyck I'm not sure about that. The *Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary gives the sentence adverbial use as informal British English, which seems very unlikely to be a baseball origin. The use here is slightly different (adverb of to be) but it's surely likely to have a common origin.
    – Matthew
    May 1, 2023 at 10:21
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"is first up to launch" means it's first to launch. I hope this answer helped.

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