Private Spacecraft Makes Historic, Tense Moon Landing

Odysseus switches to experimental NASA system after failure
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 22, 2024 6:31 PM CST
Private Spacecraft Makes Historic, Tense Moon Landing
An image taken from video released by Intuitive Machines shows flight controllers at Intuitive Machines in Houston react after its private spacecraft touched down on the moon on Thursday.   (Intuitive Machines via AP)

Intuitive Machines' Odysseus lunar lander is on the moon's surface and transmitting to Earth, though the signal is weak. "I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the surface, and we are transmitting," CEO Steve Altemus said on a webcast Thursday evening, CNN reports. "Welcome to the moon." Applause and celebrations could be heard on the company's webcast, after tension built during the wait for a signal at the company's command center in Houston, per the AP. "We're evaluating how we can refine that signal," said mission director Tim Crain. "But we can confirm, without a doubt, that our equipment is on the surface of the moon."

The condition of the craft wasn't yet known, per the Washington Post. A laser system of sensors to determine the craft's altitude and horizontal velocity wasn't working, so an experimental NASA Doppler lidar system was used—successfully—instead. That system was in place just for a technology demonstration during the flight. There also had been communication issues before the landing. But Odysseus descended from a moon-skimming orbit and guided itself toward the surface, per the AP, picking out a flat landing place among all the cliffs and craters near the south pole.

Odysseus is the first US spacecraft to land on the moon's surface since Apollo 17's in 1972, and Intuitive Machines is the first company to make its own landing; all others were missions carried out by government agencies. The last bootprints on the surface were left by Apollo's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt. NASA posted its congratulations Thursday. And Intuitive Machines shares took off in extended trading, per CNBC. (More moon landings stories.)

Get breaking news in your inbox.
What you need to know, as soon as we know it.
Sign up
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.