First U.S. spacecraft to land on the moon in 50 years

Reading Time: 2 minutes On Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, the Lunar Lander Odysseus, developed by the Aerospace Company Intuitive Machines, landed sideways on the South Pole of the moon after getting a foot snagged on a rock.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

This is the first United States Lunar Lander to touch down on the surface of the moon in more than 50 years. The lander, Odysseus, named after the hero of Greek mythology, nearly completed a textbook mission until things went a bit sideways.

Odysseus’ journey began on Feb. 15 when it launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. After a four-day voyage, the lander approached its landing site near the moon’s South Pole. However, due to a pre-launch oversight where a safety lock on its laser navigation system remained engaged, Odysseus descended faster than intended, causing it to tip over upon touchdown.

Despite this unforeseen challenge, the mission proved to be a success. Thanks to an experimental laser range-finding system included in one of NASA’s payloads and some on-the-fly software development from Intuitive Machine’s engineers, Odysseus successfully landed and transmitted valuable scientific data until Feb. 29, 2024.

“Congratulations to Intuitive Machines for placing the lunar lander Odysseus carrying NASA scientific instruments to a place no person or machine has gone before, the lunar South Pole,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a public statement following the landing. “This landing marked the United States’ first lunar landing since Apollo 17, as well as the first landing as part of our Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, which aims to expand the lunar economy to support future crewed Artemis missions.” 

The Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative is a crucial program that allows private companies like Intuitive Machines to deliver payloads to the moon in preparation for NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions. These missions aim to return humans to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972 and establish a sustainable human presence there. Odysseus’ successful landing, despite its unexpected tilt, paves the way for future robotic and human exploration of the moon. While the lander’s power reserves have depleted, it is expected to “wake up” again in late March of 2024, when the moon’s position allows sunlight to reach its solar panels. Until then, Intuitive Machines has bid farewell to its lunar companion with a heartfelt message on X reading: “Goodnight Odie, we hope to hear from you again.”