‘Welcome To The Moon’: American Lander Reaches Moon For First Time In 52 Years

Source: Intuitive Machines

An American spacecraft has officially reached the moon for the first time in over five decades. Multiple reports confirm that the unoccupied Odysseus spacecraft landed safely on the surface of the moon one week after being launched aboard a SpaceX rocket.

How Odysseus Made History Twice With Its Moon Landing

The lander spacecraft apparently made history twice with a single moon landing. First, the intergalactic vehicle, which was operated and designed by Intuitive Machines, accomplished a task that has not been accomplished by an American spacecraft since the final Apollo mission launched in 1972.

Source: Flickr/NASA’s Marshall Space Center

In addition, its recent achievement makes the Odysseus the very first commercial spacecraft that ever landed on the moon. The spacecraft officially made its landing on the moon at 5:23 p.m. Central Standard Time.

Intuitive Machines Executive Felt ‘Fairly Confident’ In Landing Attempt

Stephen Altemus, the chief executive and president of Intuitive Machines, said that he was “fairly confident” that their team would be successful at “softly touching down on the moon” with the Odysseus lander. He further stated earlier this month that they “tested and tested and tested” as much as they could do.

Source: Flickr/CNRFC

In addition to him being a top executive, Altemus was also a co-founder of Intuitive Machines in December 2012. Before he started at Intuitive, Altemus served as a Deputy Director at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

NASA Paid Odysseus Company $118 Million For Material Transport

NASA apparently paid a hefty price to have multiple science experiments placed onboard the Odysseus before it took flight. According to the Washington Post, NASA paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to deliver the experiments to the moon surface.

Source: Flickr/Wilson Hum

The flight was reportedly part of a multibillion space agency program that had the goal of designing a brand new group of robotic spacecrafts. The objective was to have private industries in the driver’s seat of the spacecraft as it heads to the moon instead of NASA.

Analyzing The Planned Route Of The Odysseus Spacecraft

The initial plan was for the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to carry Odysseus from Cape Canaveral towards the moon. It would then utilize special cameras to take pictures of the stars while speeding towards the moon to orient itself autonomously in the correct position.

Source: Flickr/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

During its journey to the moon, the spacecraft was designed to utilize its propulsion system to make the necessary course corrections “like a car driver making minor adjustments with the steering wheel.” The initial plan was designed for the spacecraft to orbit the moon 12 times approximately until the lighting conditions became appropriate for the lunar surface landing.

Intuitive Machines Used ‘Inertial Measurement’ For Final Touchdown

Intuitive Machines already expected a substantial amount of lunar dust to kick up as the spacecraft approached the surface of the moon. That is why they refused to use any sensors or cameras for the final touchdown of the Odysseus.

Source: Pixabay/Gerd Altmann

On the contrary, they trusted in what they referred to as “inertial measurement.” According to a statement released by the company, it sensed acceleration and rotation similar to the inner ear of a human. The company added that “terminal descent is like walking toward a door and closing your eyes the last three feet” where your inner ear essentially guides you the rest of the way to your destination.

Odysseus Landing Could Lay Groundwork For Future Scientific Advancements

There was a lot of hopes and expectations linked to the attempted travel and moon landing of the Odysseus. For instance, Intuitive Machines issued a statement earlier this month in which it indicated that the mission would set “the stage for more ambitious endeavors.”

Source: Flickr/Intuitive Machines

One of the “ambitious endeavors” referenced in the company’s statement was the development of lunar bases. In addition, the company referenced the desired exploration of “potential resources.”

Astrobotic Peregrine Spacecraft Failed Its Mission In January 2024

Intuitive Machines may have been the first American lander to successfully land on the moon, but it was not the first to at least make an attempt. The Astrobotic Peregrine spacecraft launched in January for a lunar landing.

Source: Flickr/NASA Kennedy

However, it was a propulsion malfunction that led to the failure of that particular mission. The malfunction made it impossible for the mission to complete.

How Far Did The Astrobotic Peregrine Go Before Its Mission Failure?

Multiple reports confirm that the propulsion failure of the Astrobotic Peregrine occurred shortly after its launch. The trajectory pushed it back towards Earth.

Source: Flickr/NASA Kennedy

Astrobotic was able to gain enough control of the spacecraft to help it reenter the atmosphere of Earth. Astrobotic still earned a lot of praise and commendation due to their full transparency even in the face of failure.

Japanese Lander Touched Down On Moon, Power Glitch Ended Mission

Japan was able to get their spacecraft to touch the surface of the moon last month long before. American followed their steps with Odysseus. A major difference was that the Japanese lander experienced a power glitch shortly after landing that brought its mission to an abrupt end.

Source: Flickr/NASA Johnson

According to CBS, the power glitch would have exhausted each of the batteries within the Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon (S.L.I.M.) within several hours after touching down on the moon. That would have left the spacecraft powerless and essentially useless when it came to transmitting science data and telemetry back to the Earth.

What Caused The Japanese Lander To Glitch On The Moon?

Hitoshi Kuninaka, a director general from the Japan Aerospace Research Agency (JAXA), told reporters that the solar cells of the S.L.I.M. likely were “not generating electricity at this point in time.” As a result, the operation was conducted through battery usage – which is what required the team to focus on getting the stored data transmitted back to the Earth as quickly as possible.

Source: Pixabay/SpaceX Imagery

Kuninaka further explained that the battery power of the spacecraft would likely be exhausted by the end of the day of his interview. Engineers later confirmed their belief that the solar cells were not damaged by the landing since the other systems of the spacecraft worked normally after the “soft” landing.

Moon Lander Sent By Israeli Nonprofit Failed To Stick The Landing

SpaceIL, an nonprofit organization based in Israel, attempted to land a spacecraft on the moon as well back in April of 2019. The lunar lander known as “Beresheet” launched out of Cape Canaveral in late February of the same year and maneuvered successfully through long loops around the planet until it reached the moon.

Source: Flickr/MarsFlight2-4-7

It was the first attempted moon landing from any privately funded organization worldwide. However, it crashed as it was not able to stick the landing.

SpaceIL Did Not Hesitate, Worked On Plans For Follow-Up Mission

Morris Kahn, billionaire businessman and SpaceIL president, made it clear that the company would not allow the mission failure to slow them down. He confirmed that SpaceIL was already hard at work making plans for their follow-up mission.

Source: Flickr/Morris Kahn

According to Kahn, SpaceIL is determined to “actually build a new halalit – a new spacecraft.” Even with the failure of the first Beresheet making international headlines, his team is still focused on taking the steps needed to “complete the mission.”

NASA Delayed Orion Spacecraft Flight Until September 2025

NASA wanted to get its own moon program literally off the ground as well. The initial plan was to send a group of astronauts around the moon within the Orion spacecraft this year during the Artemis II mission.

Source: Flickr/UtterQuatsch

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson put a pin in that plan in January by delaying the flight until September 2025. Multiple reports confirm that the space agency wants to study Orion’s heat shield more thoroughly since it displayed more charring than they initially anticipated.

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Sally Reed

Written by Sally Reed

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