The first American landing on the moon in over 50 years and the first by the private sector occurred on Thursday when a spacecraft owned and operated by the Texas-based company Intuitive Machines made land close to the moon’s south pole.

NASA, which had a number of research equipment on board, celebrated the landing as a significant step toward its objective of deploying a group of commercial spacecraft on scientific reconnaissance missions to the moon before humans are expected to return there later this decade.

However, there were initial concerns about communication issues after the landing on Thursday, raising the possibility that the vehicle was damaged or hindered in some way.

In a joint webcast of the landing from Intuitive Machines’ (LUNR.O), opens new tab mission operations center in Houston, the firm and NASA commentators reported that the unmanned six-legged robot lander, named Odysseus, came down at roughly 6:23 p.m. EST (2323 GMT).

The landing completed a suspenseful final approach and descent during which an issue with the spacecraft’s autonomous navigation system arose, forcing ground engineers to use an unproven workaround at the last minute.

In addition, it took some time to establish contact with the spacecraft again and learn its fate after an expected radio blackout that occurred some 239,000 miles (384,000 km) from Earth.

According to the webcast, when communication was eventually established again, the signal was weak, indicating that the lander had indeed touched down but leaving mission control instantly unsure of the exact state and position of the vehicle.

“Our equipment is on the surface of the moon, and we are transmitting, so congratulations IM team,” Intuitive Machines mission director Tim Crain was heard telling the operations center. “We’ll see what more we can get from that.”
Later in the evening, the company posted a message on the social media platform X saying flight controllers “have confirmed Odysseus is upright and starting to send data.”

Obstruction Question

Nevertheless, according to Thomas Zurbuchen, a former NASA science head who oversaw the development of the agency’s commercial moon lander program, the feeble signal indicated the spacecraft might have landed close to a crater wall or anything else that blocked or impinged on its antenna.
“In certain cases, it might just be a single large rock or boulder obstructing the path,” he stated during a Reuters phone interview.

The lander’s primary task of deploying its payloads and achieving science objectives may become more difficult as a result of this problem, according to Zurbuchen.
While landing successfully is “a major intermediate goal,” he continued, “the mission’s goal is to do science, and get the pictures back and so forth.”

As soon as possible, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson praised Thursday’s accomplishment as a “triumph,” declaring that “Odysseus has taken the moon.”

The webcast stated that the spacecraft was thought to have landed as intended at a crater known as Malapert A close to the moon’s south pole. A week after its launch from Florida and one day after reaching lunar orbit, the spacecraft made a landing, however it was not intended for live video broadcasting.

Since NASA’s final crewed moon mission, Apollo 17, with astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, arrived on the lunar surface in 1972, Thursday’s touchdown marked the first controlled descent to the lunar surface by an American spacecraft.
Only four other nations’ spacecraft have made lunar landings to date: the former Soviet Union, China, India, and, most recently, Japan, who did so only last month. The only country that have sent men to the moon is the United States.

Before the sun sets over the arctic landing site, Odysseus is carrying a suite of scientific instruments and technology demos for NASA and a number of commercial customers. These are intended to run the ship entirely on solar energy for seven days.

For upcoming landing missions, the NASA payload focuses on radio astronomy, space weather interactions with the lunar surface, and other elements of the lunar environment.
Last Thursday, Elon Musk’s SpaceX flew Odysseus to the moon aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The Dawn of Artemis

As China launches its own crewed spacecraft before the United States does, the arrival of this vehicle signified the first “soft landing” on the moon by a commercially made and operated vehicle and the first under NASA’s Artemis lunar program.

As a first step toward eventually sending humans to Mars, NASA plans to land its first crewed Artemis in late 2026 as part of a long-term, continuous lunar exploration program. The endeavor concentrates on the south pole of the moon in part because to a rumored abundance of frozen water that can be utilized for both rocket fuel production and life support.

Under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, a number of tiny landers, including Odysseus, are anticipated to lead the way. The program’s goal is to transport hardware and experiments to the moon at a lower cost than the conventional manner of the U.S. space agency manufacturing and launching those vehicles itself.

There are hazards associated with relying more on smaller, less seasoned private ventures.

Just last month, shortly after being launched into orbit on January 8 by a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan rocket, the lunar lander of another company, Astrobotic Technologies, experienced a propulsion system leak on its journey to the moon.

Following the disastrous attempts by firms from Israel and Japan, the malfunction of Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander represented the third failure of a private enterprise to accomplish a lunar touchdown.

Intuitive Machines is the term used to describe the IM-1 trip, even though Odysseus is the newest member of NASA’s CLPS program. Stephen Altemus, the current president and CEO of the company, was a co-founder in 2013. He was previously the deputy director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Topics #First Touchdown #Moon #NASA #US