Odysseus to Be 'Tucked in for the Cold Night of the Moon'

Moon lander broke leg upon landing on lunar surface
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 29, 2024 2:00 AM CST
Moon Lander Broke a Leg Upon Landing
This image provided by Intuitive Machines taken on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, shows flight controllers commanding the Odysseus lunar lander to capture a new image using its narrow-field-of-view camera.   (Intuitive Machines via AP)

The first private US spacecraft to land on the moon broke a leg at touchdown before falling over, and had just a few hours of power left before its anticipated premature shutdown Wednesday night, the AP reports. Intuitive Machines, the company that built the lander, released new photos Wednesday, six days after the landing, that showed at least one broken leg on the six-legged spacecraft. The lander came in too fast, skidded, and tumbled over as it touched down near the moon's south pole last Thursday, hampering communications and power. It was supposed to operate for at least a week.

CEO Steve Altemus said the lander, named Odysseus, was still generating solar power even though it was on its side. Later Wednesday, he said, flight controllers would "tuck Odie in for the cold night of the moon" so in three weeks, once lunar night lifts, they can try to regain contact. Mission director Tim Crain said it's uncertain if Odysseus will wake up. The extreme cold of the lunar night could crack the electronics and kill the batteries. A Wednesday night shutdown would represent an early end for the first US moon landing in more than 50 years and only the second mission under NASA's commercial program for lunar deliveries. But it far outpaced a rival's failed effort last month; that lander had a fuel leak and came crashing back to Earth.

Worker error before the flight made the lander's navigation system unusable. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said he considers the Odysseus mission a success, given that all six of the space agency's experiments on the lander were still working as of Wednesday morning, six days into what should have been eight days of operations. But he noted: "There's a big difference on landing a crew and landing a bunch of instruments." Intuitive Machines is the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

(More moon lander stories.)

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