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Odysseus Becomes First US Spacecraft to Land on Moon in Over 50 Years

Odysseus Moon
An important moment, not just for the commercial exploitation of space but for the US space program in general. Credit: Intuitive Machines

The Odysseus lunar lander, nicknamed “Odie,” or IM-1, has become the first US-made spacecraft to touch down on the moon in more than 50 years.

Houston-based Intuitive Machines landed its Odysseus robot near the lunar south pole. Odysseus touched down at 11:23 pm GMT. At first, there was no signal at all from the robot. There were plenty of nerves as the minutes ticked by, but eventually, a communications link was made, albeit a faint one.

This led to some concerns about the status of the lander. Within a couple of hours, however, Intuitive Machines was reporting that Odysseus was standing upright and sending back data, including pictures.

“What we can confirm, without a doubt, is our equipment is on the surface of the Moon and we are transmitting,” flight director Tim Crain announced.

It was an important moment, not just for the commercial exploitation of space but for the US space program in general.

Odysseus moon
An artist’s impression of Odysseus on the moon. Credit: Intuitive Machines

Odysseus spacecraft lands on Moon’s dark and icy side

The targeted landing site was a cratered terrain next to a 5km-high mountain complex known as Malapert. It’s the southernmost point on the Moon ever visited by a spacecraft, at 80 degrees South.

It’s on the shortlist of locations where NASA is considering sending astronauts later this decade as part of its Artemis program.

There are some deep craters in this region that never see any sunlight – they’re permanently in shadow – and scientists think frozen water could be inside them.

“The ice is really important because if we can actually take advantage of that ice on the surface of the Moon, that’s less materials we have to bring with us,” explained Lori Glaze, NASA’s director of planetary science.

“We could use that ice to convert it to water – drinkable drinking water – and we can extract oxygen and hydrogen for fuel and for breathing for the astronauts,” said Glaze. “So it really helps us in human exploration.”

Intuitive Machines has broken the United States’ half-century absence from the Moon’s surface. You have to go back to the last Apollo mission in 1972 for an occasion when American hardware nestled down gently in the lunar soil.

The US space agency NASA had purchased room on Odysseus for six scientific instruments, and its administrator Bill Nelson was quick to add his congratulations to Intuitive Machines for a mission he described as a “triumph.”

“The US has returned to the Moon,” he said. “Today, for the first time in the history of humanity, a commercial company – an American company – launched and led the voyage up there. And today is the day that shows the power and promise of NASA’s commercial partnerships.”

Related: Massive Moonquakes Jeopardize Plans for Moon Settlement, Scientists Say

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