Odysseus achieves the first US Moon landing since 1972

Intuitive Machines has just made history by becoming the first private aerospace company to land a spacecraft on the Moon’s surface. Following its launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket last Thursday, the robotic Nova-C “Odysseus” lander built by Intuitive Machines has now touched down — also making it the first US spacecraft to successfully land on the Moon since the 1972 Apollo 17 mission.

Described by NASA as a “hexagonal cylinder” on six legs, the Nova-C Odysseus lander is carrying several science and research payloads for the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which aims to collect important data about the Moon’s surface. It aimed for the lunar south pole, a region of particular scientific interest due to the occurrence of water ice hiding in permanently shadowed craters. Such data could prove useful before NASA’s Artemis program brings people back to the Moon in 2025.

It has a laser retroreflector array to help other spacecraft make precision landings and a radio navigation beacon to provide geolocation data to landers, rovers, and eventually astronauts. 

Odysseus captured several photographs during its journey to the Moon, including some “selfies” with the Earth a day after it launched. One image taken by the lander’s Terrain Relative Navigation camera shows the Moon from approximately 100,000 kilometers (around 62,137 miles), later followed by a close-up shot of the Bel’kovich K crater.

Odysseus is expected to operate for 14 Earth days, after which Intuitive Machines anticipates that the incoming lunar night — a period of prolonged cold that the lander isn’t designed to withstand — will force it to shut down. Additional payloads from other, private customers aboard the lander include an “EagleCam” CubeSat camera system built by students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, and an art project by Jeff Koons containing 125 miniature Moon sculptures.

This 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.

Update February 22nd, 6:54PM ET: Updated to note Odysseus has reached the Moon’s surface.

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