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US Achieves its first Moon Landing in 50 years

On Thursday, a spacecraft developed and operated by the Texas-based company ‘Intuitive Machines’ achieved a historic lunar landing near the moon’s South Pole, marking the first private sector and US lunar landing in nearly five decades.

During a joint webcast of the landing from Intuitive Machines’ mission operations center in Houston, the company and NASA commentators reported that the unmanned six-legged robot lander, named Odysseus, successfully touched down at approximately 6:23pm EST (2323 GMT). The landing concluded with a tense final approach and descent, as an issue with the spacecraft’s automated navigation system arose, necessitating ground engineers to employ an untested workaround at the last moment.

Following an expected radio blackout at a distance of approximately 384,000 km from Earth, it took some time to reestablish contact with the spacecraft and ascertain its status. During this period, mission control initially lacked precise information regarding the spacecraft’s condition and location, despite confirmation of its touchdown being received via a weak signal.

Tim Crain, Intuitive Machines’ mission director, congratulated the operations center, stating, “Our equipment is on the surface of the moon, and we are transmitting, so congratulations IM team. We’ll see what more we can get from that.”

Administrator Bill Nelson of NASA promptly commended the achievement, hailing it as a “triumph,” and stating, “Odysseus has taken the moon.”

According to the webcast, the landing occurred one day after the spacecraft entered lunar orbit and one week after its launch from Florida. Notably, the spacecraft was not equipped to capture the event on live video.

Thursday’s touchdown marked the first controlled descent to the lunar surface by an American spacecraft since NASA’s final crewed moon mission, Apollo 17, in 1972, which landed with astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt.

To date, only spacecraft from four other nations—the former Soviet Union, China, India, and Japan—have successfully landed on the moon, with the United States being the only country to have sent humans there.

Odysseus, before the arctic landing site experiences sunset, carries a suite of scientific instruments and technological demonstrations for NASA and various commercial clients. These payloads are designed to operate solely on solar energy for a duration of seven days.

The primary objective of the NASA payload is to gather data on the effects of space atmosphere on the lunar surface, radio astronomy, and other aspects of the lunar environment to aid in the planning of future lander missions. NASA also has plans for manned lunar surface missions later this decade.

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