US pulls off first moon landing since 1972 with spacecraft Odysseus

Odysseus is the first spacecraft built by a private company to land on the lunar surface.

Odysseus is the first US spacecraft to land on the moon since 1972 [File: Intuitive Machines via AFP]Published On 23 Feb 202423 Feb 2024

The United States has pulled off its first lunar landing in more than half a century with a spacecraft built and operated by a Texas-based private company.

Odysseus, an uncrewed robot lander built by Houston-based Intuitive Machines with funding from NASA, touched down near the lunar south pole at around 23:23 GMT, the company announced in a webcast on Thursday.

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The successful landing followed a tense final descent during which flight controllers had to switch to an untested landing system after a problem arose with the spacecraft’s autonomous navigation system.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson described the landing as a “triumph for humanity” and a “new adventure in science, innovation and American leadership in space”.

“Today, for the first time in half a century, the US has returned to the Moon,” Nelson said in a video posted on social media.

“Today for the first time in the history of humanity, a commercial company, an American company, launched and led the voyage up there. And today is a day that shows the power and promise of NASA’s commercial partnerships.”

Intuitive Machines’ mission, the first successful lunar landing by a private firm, follows a failed bid by Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology last month that ended with its lander crashing back to Earth.

The last time a US spacecraft landed on the moon was in 1972 when Apollo 17 brought astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt to the lunar surface.

Only four countries apart from the US have successfully landed on the moon.

Japan last month became the fifth country to achieve the feat when it landed its so-called “Moon Sniper” spacecraft on the lunar surface, following in the footsteps of the former Soviet Union, China and India.

Odysseus launched from Florida on February 15 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

The hexagon-shaped craft carried NASA’s scientific instruments, including cameras and a device to analyse clouds of charged dust particles, and cargo shipped on behalf of private clients, including the latest insulating jacket fabric produced by Columbia Sportswear.

Odysseus, which is solar-powered, is expected to operate for a week on the surface of the moon before the lunar night renders the lander inoperable.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies