U.S. Spacecraft on the Moon for the First Time in 50+ Years

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25 Feb 2024 1:00 AM

ABOVE - Odysseus lunar lander on the surface of the Moon as part of NASA’s CLPS initiative and Artemis campaign. Credit: Intuitive Machines

The first American-made spacecraft has landed on the moon for the first time in over 50 years! The commercial lander, Odysseus made by Intuitive Machines, landed near the South Pole of the moon on Thursday, February 22nd at 6:23 PM ET. As of Friday morning (Feb 23rd), the uncrewed lander was reported to be healthy and reporting back information and observations to crews here on Earth.

Odysseus was launched on February 15 at 1:05 AM ET from Launch Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on a SpaceX rocket. It then took an 8-day journey to the moon where it landed on the 22nd. The launch and landing were a partnership between NASA and commercial entities, where private companies developed the uncrewed ship and launched it to the moon while NASA provided 6 payloads of scientific instruments on board.

Two of those payloads were used during descent: similar tools to weather radar were used to help with precision during spacecraft touchdown. Cameras were part of NASA's six payloads to "capture stereo and still images of the dust plume created by the lander’s engine as it begins its descent to the lunar surface".

Some of the other instruments will help NASA prepare for future missions, including a beacon/location marker on the moon (known as an LRA (Laser Retroreflector Array) and RFMG (Radio Frequency Mass Gauge), a gauge used to measure propellant of the spacecraft to help NASA prepare for future missions.

Additional tools include the ROLSES, a tool to measure the "dynamic radio energy environment near the lunar surface and determine how natural and human-generated activity near the surface interacts with science investigations". Finally, the LN-1 (Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator) is "a small, CubeSat-sized flight hardware experiment that integrates navigation and communication functionality for autonomous navigation to support future surface and orbital operations" according to NASA.

This accomplishment is part of the greater Artemis mission which calls for human exploration of the moon and beyond!

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