Odysseus lunar landing puts US back on Moon

NASA instruments are operating on the Moon for the first time in over half a century after the successful landing of the commercial Odysseus lunar module.

The Odysseus lunar lander, designed and built by Texas-based company Intuitive Machines, made a safe landing on Thursday at 6.24 p.m. EST, just over half an hour behind the projected schedule.

“For the first time in more than 50 years, new NASA science instruments and technology demonstrations are operating on the Moon following the first successful delivery of the agency’s CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) initiative,” said the US space agency.

The lunar module took one week to complete its journey from Cape Canaveral in Florida to Malapert A landing base near the South Pole.

“The lander is healthy, collecting solar power and transmitting data back to the company’s mission control in Houston,” said NASA. “The mission marks the first commercial uncrewed landing on the Moon.”

As well as being the first American public-private space flight of its kind to succeed, the Odysseus landing also marks the first successful lunar mission by the US since Apollo 17 in 1972.

The landing is part of NASA’s Artemis campaign, which is intended to pave the way for future missions that will send astronauts to search for water and other resources on the Moon later this decade. The hope is to eventually conduct crewed explorations of Mars as well.

The current exploration of the lunar surface is expected to be completed at the end of this month.

The journey itself promises to be as rewarding as the destination in terms of scientific discovery. During its flight through space, NASA instruments aboard the Odysseus measured the quantity of cryogenic engine fuel used and collected data on the Moon’s surface during its descent while testing precision landing technologies.

The voyage was not without challenges. A few hours before landing, Intuitive Machines spotted a sensor issue in its navigation system and had to fall back on NASA’s guidance system to help it land properly.

NASA said the system works on the same principles as radar and uses “pulses from a laser emitted through three optical telescopes.” This measured speed, direction, and altitude during descent and touchdown, allowing the Odysseus to land safely at Malapert A.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson celebrated the Odysseus mission as a milestone achievement for the agency and congratulated private-sector partners, including Elon Musk’s rocket manufacturer SpaceX, for helping to make it a success.

“Congratulations to Intuitive Machines for placing the lunar lander Odysseus carrying NASA scientific instruments to a place no person or machine has gone before, the lunar South Pole,” he said. “This feat from Intuitive Machines, SpaceX, and NASA demonstrates the promise of American leadership in space and the power of commercial partnerships under NASA’s CLPS initiative. Further, this success opens the door for new voyages under Artemis to send astronauts to the Moon, then onward to Mars.”

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