US private spacecraft lands on lunar surface

World Friday 23/February/2024 09:30 AM
By: DW
US private spacecraft lands on lunar surface

A spacecraft built and flown by Houston-based Intuitive Machines landed on the moon at 2323 GMT on Thursday, marking the first US touchdown on the lunar surface in more than half a century and the first ever by a private company.

The news was confirmed by Intuitive Machine's chief executive Steve Altemus, who said: "I know this was a nail biter but we are on the on the surface and we are transmitting. Welcome to the moon."

The company behind the mission said flight controllers received a weak signal from the ship. "We're evaluating how we can refine that signal," said mission director Tim Crain.

"Without a doubt our equipment is on the surface of the Moon, and we are transmitting," he said. "Congratulations, IM team, we'll see how much more we can get from that."

The six-legged robotic lander, dubbed Odysseus, targeted the Malapert A crater near the moon's south pole.

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

The NASA payload will focus on collecting data on space weather interactions with the lunar surface, radio astronomy and other aspects of the lunar environment for future landers and NASA's planned return of astronauts later this decade.

Odysseus launched on February 15 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The spacecraft boasts a new type of supercooled liquid oxygen, liquid methane propulsion system that allows it to race through space in quick time.

Odysseus remained "in excellent health" as it continued to orbit the moon, about 239,000 miles (384,000 kilometers) from Earth, transmitting flight data and lunar images to Intuitive Machines' mission control center in Houston, the company said Wednesday.

History of lunar exploration

The Intuitive Machines' mission marks the first controlled descent to the lunar surface by a US spacecraft since Apollo 17 in 1972, when NASA's last crewed mission to the moon landed with astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt.

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