Friday, April 12, 2024

US achieves first moon touchdown in 50 years

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Fidel Rahmati
Fidel Rahmatihttps://www.khaama.com
Fidai Rahmati is the editor and content writer for Khaama Press. You may follow him at Twitter @FidelRahmati
Image/Reuters.

According to Reuters, Texas-based company Intuitive Machines successfully landed a spacecraft near the moon’s south pole on Thursday, marking the first U.S. touchdown on the lunar surface in over fifty years and the first ever achieved by a private sector entity.

The six-legged robot lander, named Odysseus, completed its descent at approximately 6:23 p.m. EST (2323 GMT), as reported jointly by the company and NASA commentators during a webcast from Intuitive Machines’ mission operations center in Houston.

Despite encountering a problem with the spacecraft’s autonomous navigation system during the final approach and descent, engineers on the ground managed to implement a last-minute solution, adding tension to the nail-biting moments leading up to the touchdown.

Following an expected radio blackout, it took some time to re-establish communication with Odysseus, located approximately 239,000 miles (384,000 km) from Earth, leaving mission control initially uncertain about the lander’s exact condition and position.

Intuitive Machines mission director Tim Crain expressed congratulations to the team upon confirming the spacecraft’s landing, noting the transmission of signals from the lunar surface and expressing anticipation for further data.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson lauded the achievement as a significant milestone, emphasizing Odysseus’ successful arrival on the moon.

As planned, Odysseus is believed to have landed at a crater named Malapert A near the moon’s south pole, though the spacecraft was not equipped to provide live video of the landing.

The successful landing on Thursday marks the first controlled descent to the lunar surface by a U.S. spacecraft since NASA’s Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Prior to Odysseus’ landing, spacecraft from only four other countries – the former Soviet Union, China, India, and Japan – had accomplished moon landings.

Odysseus is equipped with scientific instruments and technology demonstrations for NASA and commercial customers, intended to operate on solar energy for approximately seven days.

NASA’s payload onboard Odysseus will gather data on space weather, radio astronomy, and other lunar environmental factors, aiding future missions and NASA’s planned return of astronauts to the moon.

The mission, known as IM-1, was launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket by SpaceX, to deliver instruments and hardware to the moon under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.

Odysseus’ landing marks the first “soft landing” on the moon by a commercially manufactured and operated vehicle and represents a significant milestone under NASA’s Artemis lunar program.

As NASA continues its efforts for sustained lunar exploration and eventual human flights to Mars, Odysseus’ successful landing highlights the role of private sector ventures in advancing space exploration technology and capabilities.

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