July 21, 2024

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First commercial spacecraft lands on the Moon

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The Moon is officially open for business after the first commercial spacecraft successfully touched down on the lunar surface.

After an eight-day flight, US-based Intuitive Machines’ unmanned Odysseus lander touched down safely on the lunar surface on Thursday, close to its target, the Malapert A crater near the Moon’s south pole. 

The descent was fraught with last-minute suspense as mission control lost contact with the lander just as it touched down. However, roughly 15 minutes after the targeted landing time, a faint signal was finally received and mission director and chief technology officer Tim Crain announced: “Odysseus has found a new home.”

The mission marks the successful return of the US to lunar exploration for the first time in more than 50 years, after the Apollo programme ended in 1972. It is an important milestone in Nasa’s plans to send humans to the lunar south pole in 2026, relying on private companies to help cut the costs of services such as transport, navigation and communications.

Bill Nelson, Nasa administrator, declared: “The US has returned to the moon. Today for the first time . . . a commercial company, an American company has launched and led the voyage up there. This shows the power and promise of Nasa’s commercial partnerships. What a triumph!”

Nasa has said the creation of a commercially viable lunar economy will be vital to its ambition for a permanent human base on the Moon and, eventually Mars.

Thomas Zurbuchen, professor of space science at ETH Zurich who ran Nasa’s science missions until 2022, said the landing “changes the whole paradigm of planetary exploration. Until now everything has been done by governments. With companies we can do it a lot cheaper.”

Odysseus’s safe landing was greeted with elation at Intuitive’s mission control in Houston, Texas. In the last few hours…

2024-02-22 19:27:34

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