The first landing of an American mission in 50 years. The probe built by Intuitive Machines has reached the south pole of the Moon

A spacecraft built and piloted by Texas company Intuitive Machines landed near the moon's south pole on Thursday, the first American landing in more than half a century and the first ever by the private sector.

The Odysseus spacecraft passes the near side of the Moon PHOTO: Intuitive Machines

NASA, with several research instruments aboard the vehicle, hailed the landing as a major achievement in its goal of sending a team of commercial spacecraft on scientific reconnaissance missions to the Moon ahead of the planned return of astronauts there later this year. decade, writes

But initial communication problems after Thursday's landing raised questions about whether the vehicle could have been damaged or obstructed in any way.

The unmanned six-legged lander robot, named Odysseus, touched down around 6:23 p.m. EST (2323 GMT), the company and NASA commentators said in a joint broadcast of the landing from Intuitive Machines' mission operations center ( LUNR.O), opens a new tab, from Houston.

The landing capped off an unforgettable final approach and descent that saw a problem with the spacecraft's autonomous navigation system, forcing ground engineers to resort to a last-minute, untested failsafe.

It also took some time after an anticipated radio blackout to restore communications with the spacecraft and determine its fate 384,000 km from Earth.

When contact was eventually reestablished, the signal was weak, confirming that the lander had touched the ground but leaving mission control immediately uncertain about the vehicle's exact condition and orientation, according to the webcast.

“Our equipment is on the surface of the moon and we are transmitting, so congratulations to the IM team,” Intuitive Machines mission director Tim Crain was heard telling the operations center. “We'll see what else we can get from here.”

Later in the evening, the company posted a message on social media platform X saying that flight controllers “they confirmed that Odysseus was upright and started sending data”.


However, the weak signal suggested the spacecraft might have landed near a crater wall or something else that blocked or obstructed its antenna, said Thomas Zurbuchen, a former NASA science chief who oversaw the creation of the commercial program. of the Moon Landing Agency.

Sometimes it could just be a stone, a big boulder, standing in the way,” he said in a telephone interview with Reuters.

Such a problem could complicate the lander's primary mission of deploying its payloads and accomplishing science goals, Zurbuchen said.

Making the landing is “a major intermediate goal, but the goal of the mission is to do science and get the images back and so on,” he added.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson immediately hailed Thursday's performance as a “triumph”saying: “Odysseus conquered the moon”.

According to the plan, the spacecraft was believed to have come to rest in a crater called Malapert A near the moon's south pole, according to the webcast. The spacecraft was not designed to provide live video footage of the landing, which took place a day after it reached lunar orbit and a week after its launch from Florida.

Thursday's landing marked the first controlled landing on the lunar surface by a US spacecraft since Apollo 17 in 1972, when NASA's last manned lunar mission landed there with astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt.

To date, spacecraft from only four other countries have ever landed on the moon – the former Soviet Union, China, India and, most recently, last month, Japan. The United States is the only one that has ever sent humans to the lunar surface.

Odysseus carries a suite of scientific instruments and technology demonstrations for NASA and several commercial customers, designed to operate for seven days on solar power before the sun sets over the polar landing site.

NASA's payload focuses on space weather interactions with the lunar surface, radio astronomy, and other aspects of the lunar environment for future lunar landing missions.

Odysseus was sent to the moon last Thursday atop a Falcon 9 rocket launched by Elon Musk's SpaceX from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.


His arrival marked the first “smooth landing” on the Moon ever by a commercially manufactured and operated vehicle and the first under NASA's Artemis lunar program, as the US rushes to return astronauts to Earth's natural satellite before China lands its own manned spacecraft there.

NASA aims to land its first manned Artemis in late 2026 as part of long-term sustained lunar exploration and as a stepping stone for eventual manned flights to Mars. The initiative focuses on the moon's south pole, in part because there is supposed to be an abundance of frozen water that can be used to support life and produce rocket fuel.

A series of small landers, such as Odysseus, are expected to pave the way under NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, designed to deliver instruments and equipment to the Moon at lower cost than the US space agency's traditional method of to build and launch these vehicles.

Relying more on smaller and less experienced private enterprises comes with its own risks.

Just last month, another firm's lunar lander, Astrobotic Technology, suffered a propellant leak on its way to the moon, shortly after it was placed into orbit on January 8 by a United Launch Vulcan rocket Alliance (ULA).

The failure of Astrobotic's Peregrine lander marked the third failure of a private company to land on the moon, following unsuccessful efforts by companies in Israel and Japan.

Although Odysseus is the latest star of NASA's CLPS program, the IM-1 flight is considered an Intuitive Machines mission. The company was co-founded in 2013 by Stephen Altemus, former deputy director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and currently president and chief executive officer