Private lander touches down on the moon but sending weak signal

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This image provided by Intuitive Machines shows its Odysseus lunar lander over the near side of the moon following lunar orbit insertion on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. (Intuitive Machines via AP)

Summary

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A private U.S. lunar lander has touched down on the moon, but company officials say it was sending a weak signal. The lander guided itself to the surface Thursday, searching for a relatively flat spot among all the cliffs and craters near the south pole. Intuitive Machines was striving to become the first private business to pull off a lunar landing, a feat achieved by only five countries. The craft is part of NASA’s efforts to commercialize moon deliveries ahead of the planned return of astronauts. There hasn’t been a U.S. spacecraft on the moon since the end of NASA’s Apollo program.

Story Body

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A private U.S. lunar lander touched down on the moon Thursday, but contact with the craft was weak, company officials said.

There were no immediate updates on the lander’s condition from the company, Intuitive Machines.

Tension mounted in the company’s command center in Houston, as controllers awaited a signal from the spacecraft some 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) away, which arrived about 10 minutes later.

“We’re evaluating how we can refine that signal,” said mission director Tim Crain. “But we can confirm, without a doubt, that our equipment is on the surface of the moon.”

The lander, Odysseus, descended from a moon-skimming orbit and guided itself toward the surface, searching for a relatively flat spot among all the cliffs and craters near the south pole.

The lander’s choreographed descent was the first for the U.S. since 1972, when Apollo 17’s Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt left the last bootprints in the desolate gray dust.

Intuitive Machines was striving to become the first private business to successfully pull off a lunar landing, a feat achieved by only five countries. Another company gave it a shot last month, but never made it to the moon, and the lander crashed back to Earth.

Odysseus, carrying NASA experiments, reached the moon Wednesday, six days after rocketing from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A private lunar lander circled the moon while aiming for a touchdown Thursday that would put the U.S. back on the surface for the first time since NASA’s famed Apollo moonwalkers.

Intuitive Machines was striving to become the first private business to successfully pull off a lunar landing, a feat achieved by only five countries. A rival company’s lander missed the moon last month.

The newest lander, named Odysseus, reached the moon Wednesday, six days after rocketing from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The lander maneuvered into a low lunar orbit in preparation for an early evening touchdown.

Flight controllers monitored the action unfolding some 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) away from a command center at company headquarters in Houston.

The six-footed carbon fiber and titanium lander — towering 14 feet (4.3 meters) — carried six experiments for NASA. The space agency gave the company $118 million to build and fly the lander, part of its effort to commercialize lunar deliveries ahead of the planned return of astronauts in a few years.

Intuitive Machines’ entry is the latest in a series of landing attempts by countries and private outfits looking to explore the moon and, if possible, capitalize on it. Japan scored a lunar landing last month, joining earlier triumphs by Russia, U.S., China and India.

The U.S. bowed out of the lunar landscape in 1972 after NASA’s Apollo program put 12 astronauts on the surface . A Pittsburgh company, Astrobotic Technology, gave it a shot last month, but was derailed by a fuel leak that resulted in the lander plunging back through Earth’s atmosphere and burning up.

Intuitive Machines’ target was 186 miles (300 kilometers) shy of the south pole, around 80 degrees latitude and closer to the pole than any other spacecraft has come. The site is relatively flat, but surrounded by boulders, hills, cliffs and craters that could hold frozen water, a big part of the allure. The lander was programmed to pick, in real time, the safest spot near the so-called Malapert A crater.

The solar-powered lander was intended to operate for a week, until the long lunar night.

Besides NASA’s tech and navigation experiments, Intuitive Machines sold space on the lander to Columbia Sportswear to fly its newest insulating jacket fabric; sculptor Jeff Koons for 125 mini moon figurines; and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for a set of cameras to capture pictures of the descending lander.

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AP-US-SCI-Moon-Landing, 2nd Ld-Writethru

Feb 22, 2024 5:55 PM – 688 words

By MARCIA DUNN AP Aerospace Writer

Eds: MAJOR UPDATE: Updates

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