Odysseus becomes first privately owned spacecraft to land on the moon

Intuitive Machines has etched its name in history as the first private aerospace company to achieve the milestone of landing a spacecraft on the Moon’s surface. Launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the robotic Nova-C Odysseus lander touched down successfully, marking the first US spacecraft to achieve this feat since the 1972 Apollo 17 mission.

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Described by NASA as a “hexagonal cylinder” supported by six legs, the Nova-C Odysseus lander is equipped with various science and research payloads for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. These payloads aim to gather crucial data about the Moon’s surface, particularly targeting the lunar south pole, where water ice is believed to exist in permanently shadowed craters. Such data will be invaluable for NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the Moon by 2025.

Equipped with a laser retroreflector array for precision landings and a radio navigation beacon for geolocation data, Odysseus captured stunning images during its journey, including “selfies” with the Earth and close-up shots of the Moon’s surface.

Expected to operate for 14 Earth days, Odysseus faces the challenge of surviving the lunar night, which it isn’t designed for. Among the additional payloads aboard the lander are an “EagleCam” CubeSat camera system developed by students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and an art project by Jeff Koons featuring miniature Moon sculptures.

This historic achievement comes after recent failed attempts by other private entities, including Astrobotic Peregrine lander and ispace’s Hakuto-R mission, highlighting the challenges and risks associated with lunar exploration. Despite setbacks, the successful landing of Odysseus marks a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to explore and understand Earth’s nearest celestial neighbour.