America Lands on the Moon for the First Time Since 1972

2024-02-23 12:00:48

The Odysseus landed near the moon’s lunar south pole on Thursday night.

It’s the first time the U.S. has been on the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972!

Intuitive Mechanics, a private company based in Houston, built the robotic lander.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched Odysseus on February 15. It entered the lunar orbit on February 21. It didn’t all go smoothly, though:

In the home stretch of its touchdown try today, however, the lander’s handlers discovered that Odysseus’ laser rangefinders, which allow it to determine its altitude and horizontal velocity, weren’t working properly. So the team pressed NASA’s experimental NDL payload into service for this vital function, pushing the landing try back by two hours to put the new plan into action.

This last-minute workaround — which required the team to design a software patch on the ground and beam it up to Odysseus — did the trick. At 6:11 p.m. EST (2311 GMT) today, Odysseus fired up its main engine for a crucial 11-minute burn that slowed the craft’s descent toward the lunar surface. Then, at 6:23 p.m. EST (2353 GMT), Odysseus touched down softly near the rim of the crater Malapert A, about 190 miles (300 kilometers) from the lunar south pole.

Odysseus will stay on the surface for seven Earth days. The moon takes 27 Earth days to rotate on its axis. A lunar night lasts about two weeks

The mission ends “when the sun goes down at Malapert A, as Odysseus was not designed to survive the bitter cold of the long lunar night.”

Odysseus carried a bunch of NASA instruments to the moon:

The NASA instruments, which cost the agency an additional $11 million to develop, are designed to conduct a variety of investigations. For instance, one of them, called NDL (“Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing”) used LIDAR (light detection and ranging) technology to collect data during descent and landing. NDL turned out to be vital to today’s touchdown, as you’ll see below.

Another instrument was designed to study how the spacecraft’s engine exhaust interacts with lunar dirt and rock. Yet another will demonstrate autonomous positioning tech, which could eventually become part of a broad, GPS-like navigation system on and around the moon.

It also has:

Intuitive Machines also put six commercial payloads on Odysseus for IM-1. One of them comes from Columbia Sportswear, which wanted to test its “Omni-Heat Infinity” insulative material in deep space. Another is a set of sculptures by the artist Jeff Koons, and there’s even a “secure lunar repository” that aims to help preserve humanity’s storehouse of accumulated knowledge.

Also flying on Odysseus was EagleCam, a camera system built by students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. EagleCam was designed to deploy from Odysseus about 100 feet (30 meters) above the lunar surface and snap photos of the lander’s epic touchdown from below. You can learn more about all 12 of the IM-1 payloads here.


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America Lands on the Moon for the First Time Since 1972


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