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Higher Education

Odysseus becomes first private spacecraft landing on the Moon

Intuitive Machines has just made history by becoming the first private aerospace company to land a spacecraft on the Moon’s surface. US achieved its first touchdown on lunar surface in over 50 years as a spacecraft built and flown by the Texas-based company landed near Moon’s south pole.

Signals sent back to mission control confirmed the successful landing of the spacecraft. However, there was a delay in re-establishing communication with the lander, causing uncertainty about its condition and position.

What is Intuitive Machines?

Texan company Intuitive Machines has been contracted by the US space agency (NASA) to carry scientific instruments to the Moon’s south pole. It becomes the first American soft landing on the lunar surface since the Apollo era just over half a century ago. To date, only four other countries – the former Soviet Union, China, India, and Japan – have successfully landed spacecraft on the Moon. However, the United States remains the only country to have sent humans to the lunar surface.

The robot lander, Odysseus is the first privately owned spacecraft to achieve its goal after the Astrobotic Peregrine lander, launched by United Launch Alliance last month, failed to reach the Moon. The Nasa payload onboard the spacecraft will focus on collecting data on space weather interactions with the Moon’s surface, radio astronomy, and other aspects of the lunar environment. This information will be crucial for future landers and Nasa’s planned return of astronauts to the Moon in the coming years.

How long is the robot lander expected to operate?

The landing took place as planned at a crater called Malapert A near the moon’s south pole. The Odysseus lander is equipped with a suite of scientific instruments and technology demonstrations for Nasa and several commercial customers. It is designed to operate for seven days on solar energy before the sun sets over the polar landing site.

This successful landing represents the first controlled descent to the lunar surface by a US spacecraft since Apollo 17 in 1972. Odysseus captured several photographs during its journey to the Moon, including some “selfies” with the Earth a day after it launched.

Other recent attempts include Japanese startup ispace’s Hakuto-R mission last April, which lost contact shortly before it was set to touch down, and Israel’s Beresheet lander that crashed in 2019. Japan’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) ran into trouble after coming down facing the wrong way last month, while last fall, Russia’s Luna 25 crashed into the Moon just before India’s Chandrayaan-3 made a successful landing.

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