What Happened During Odysseus’ Historic Return to the Moon After 50 Years? | Space News


The Odysseus lunar lander has made the first United States landing on the moon in more than 50 years, in what has been described as similar to a “cargo mission”.
The moment marks the first successful landing of a commercial spacecraft on the moon, following an unsuccessful US lunar lander mission last month.
What’s the Odysseus moon lander?
Odysseus is the first craft launched from the US to land on the moon’s surface since the Apollo 17 in 1972.
Odysseus, also known as “Odie”, is a type of lunar lander designed by Intuitive Machines, a commercial lunar missions group which has the goal of delivering small “payloads” to the surface of the moon.
For this mission, during which the environment at one of the moon’s poles will be investigated, NASA paid Intuitive Machines $118m under a programme known as Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS).
According to EVONA, a space industry recruiter, “a payload is the part of a spacecraft that is responsible for achieving the mission’s primary objectives … [they] can be scientific instruments, communication equipment, or any other specialised equipment that is needed for the mission”.
This model of lunar lander is called a Nova-C. Intuitive Machines reportedly described it as roughly the size of a British telephone booth with legs attached. According to NASA, it’s a hexagonal cylinder with dimensions of 4.0 metres tall and 1.57 metres wide.
The lander is equipped with five NASA payloads and one commercial one – a total of 100kg.
NASA’s cargo comprises exploration and other equipment. “The NASA payloads will focus on demonstrating communication, navigation and precision landing technologies, and gathering scientific data about rocket plume and lunar surface interactions, as well as space weather and lunar surface interactions affecting radio astronomy,” the space agency said in a statement.
The Nova-C lunar lander designed by aerospace company Intuitive Machines is displayed at the company’s headquarters in Houston [File: Evan Garcia/Reuters]
According to Joel Kearns, the deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, this is similar to a cargo mission.
“NASA pays a company to take our equipment, our science, to the moon all the way down to the surface and get our data back,” Kearns told Al Jazeera.
“But this is the company’s mission, they go off and make their lander, they buy a rocket, they design their mission, they get all their communications set up, we are just a paying cargo customer, just as if we were shipping a parcel to somebody’s house,” he added.
Art and technology are also on board. Among the items is a box from American artist Jeff Koons which contains 125 small stainless steel balls to represent the moon’s different phases through a month. The artwork is associated with individuals who have made important accomplishments in history.
“In this way, Koons honours some of the greatest achievements of the past to inspire future generations,” Intuitive Machines said.
We’ve landed! Congratulations to Intuitive Machines & SpaceX for their astounding achievement of realizing this historic private mission to the Moon! I’m so honored to have my Moon Phases artworks be part of the Odysseus mission! @Int_Machines @SpaceX @NASA #jeffkoons #moonphase pic.twitter.com/yQq80zgdck
— Jeff Koons (@JeffKoons) February 23, 2024What is Odie expected to achieve?
The moon’s southern polar region is believed to contain abundant water ice. Prior to deploying astronauts to this area, however, the agency wants to gather additional data. This information will help evaluate factors such as the quantity of water present and the accessibility of this vital resource.
NASA’s aim is to establish a permanent lunar base for human voyagers and, eventually, a launching point for Mars.
“The goal here is for us to investigate the moon in preparation for Artemis, and really to do business differently for NASA,” Sue Lederer, Commercial Lunar Payload Services project scientist at Johnson Space Center in Houston, said during a press conference.
“One of our main goals is to make sure that we develop a lunar economy,” she added, referring to NASA’s ambition to build a market in which privately owned companies compete to be part of the journey.
“There is so much more that we have to learn about the moon,” Ali Bramson, a planetary scientist from Purdue University told Al Jazeera. “Everything from how it formed, to the technologies needed, to how people survive on the surface of the moon, so much science and technology that we still have to learn at the moon,” she added.
Who else is sending missions to the moon?
A modern moon rush is taking place worldwide. Over the past year, India and Japan have both landed probes on the moon.
China has had rovers there for more than a decade, but Odysseus is the first privately built craft to make the journey.
After the Odysseus lander, the next spacecraft set to head to the moon may be Chang’e-6 from China, a robotic lunar mission which aims to augment the country’s collection of lunar rocks and soil. The China National Space Administration has announced that the launch is scheduled for May 2024.
What were the reactions to the landing?
After the confirmation of success – and many stressful hours – the broader team, including families and mechanics, also joined in the celebrations.

The initial signal is weak but @Int_Machines has confirmed that Odysseus Nova-C lander is on the Moon! #IM1 Congratulations!!! pic.twitter.com/Q3wgl1Z5mt
— Jason Major (@JPMajor) February 22, 2024

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