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NASA and Private Partners Celebrate Successful Lunar Landing

‘We were collaboratively working together to find solutions so that the spacecraft could live,’ CLPS project scientist says.

NASA and Intuitive Machines leaders proclaimed the landing of its Odysseus moon lander a complete success and shared the story of how they were able to salvage the mission after a botched soft landing.

“This is the first time in the 21st century the United States has landed equipment on the surface of the moon, and we’re getting data back,” , said Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator of Exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

He also credited the mission as the first bit of evidence that the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program (CLPS) under the Artemis Program could work.

That business success was also celebrated by NASA’s private partner.

“What we’ve done in the process of this mission, though, is we’ve fundamentally changed the economics of landing on the moon and kicked open the door for a robust, thriving cislunar economy in the future,” said Steve Altemus, CEO and co-founder of Intuitive Machines, the Houston space company that built Odysseus.

Recovering the Data

Mr. Altemus and Tim Crain, co-founder and chief technical officer of Intuitive Machines, said that while a soft pinpoint landing was achieved, a combination of a lack of laser rangefinders for landing and a challenging terrain caused part of the craft’s landing gear to break and leave it leaning at a 30-degree angle.

Thanks to a rapid collaboration effort with NASA and international partners—both public and private—the company was able to regain communications with the spacecraft on low-gain antennas, and data from all payloads are being received. They did so with the help, most notably, of “the big dish” in Australia.

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Odysseus carried six payloads for NASA and other customers, and mission leaders confirmed that data were being received from all six.

“We were collaboratively working together to find solutions so that the spacecraft could live, that payloads could get their data,” CLPS project scientist Sue Lederer said. ”And instead of ending up with a few bytes of data, which was the baseline goal for us, we’ve gotten over 50 megabytes of data.”

Mr. Kearns said that the mission had only two objectives: to achieve America’s first soft landing on the moon in decades and to receive some data back from the lunar surface.

Mr. Altemus said he expects them to operate Odysseus for 144 more hours before lunar sunset. At that time, he said they would put the lander “to sleep” and would resume its data-collecting mission two to three weeks later when the sun rises on that part of the moon again.

“We’ve received tremendous amounts of the guidance, and navigation control data, and all of the propulsion data,” he said. “All of the performance data will allow us to completely reconstruct the mission and evaluate it in lieu of Intuitive Machine’s two subsequent missions.”

As of now, though, changes the team leaders already want to make include more cameras and more high-gain antennas, and there are plans to build a larger lander and put communication satellites around the moon.

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