IM and NASA Declare Success — Odysseus Lander on the Moon

IM and NASA Declare Success — Odysseus Lander on the Moon

Houston-based Intuitive Machines and NASA declared this evening that IM’s Odysseus spacecraft successfully landed on the Moon. The final hours were filled with drama, but the company says Odysseus is upright and starting to send back data, making it the first U.S. lunar lander since 1972 and the first successful commercial lunar lander.

Launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on February 15, this first IM mission, IM-1, landed in the Malapert-A crater near the Moon’s South Pole at 6:23 pm EST. The Odysseus lander, Odie for short, is closer to the South Pole than any prior spacecraft, about 300 kilometers (186 miles) away.

IM is one of several companies participating in NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program to put NASA payloads on the lunar surface through Public-Private Partnerships. NASA purchases services from the companies. The companies design, build and own the landers and procure launch services, finding non-NASA customers to close the business case.

The first CLPS mission was launched last month by a different company, Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, but the Peregrine spacecraft suffered a propellant anomaly shortly after separating from its rocket and failed.

NASA acknowledges these missions are riskier than typical NASA-sponsored flights, but the goal is to develop a commercial lunar landing industry and the risks therefore are worthwhile. A 50-50 success rate is acceptable from NASA’s point of view, a matter of taking “shots on goal.”

Today’s success was far from assured. This morning IM announced the landing time would be earlier than expected, 4:24 pm ET instead of 5:30 pm ET.  But in mid-afternoon they suddenly said they’d decided to do one more orbit around the Moon, pushing the landing to 6:24 pm ET. (IM is headquartered in Houston, so they express times in Central Standard Time, CST. Add 1 hour for Eastern Standard Time.)

They didn’t explain why at the time, but later revealed IM’s laser range finder navigation system had malfunctioned and they were writing and uploading software so they could switch to a NASA technology demonstration Navigation Doppler Lidar that fortuitously happened to be one of the six NASA payloads onboard.

Tensions were high during the livestream as the lander made its descent to the lunar surface.  Earlier attempts by an Israeli non-profit and the Indian government in 2019 and a Japanese private company last year failed in the last moments.

At 6:23 pm EST, Odysseus landed, but a communications link could not be established immediately. After several nerve-racking minutes, Mission Director Tim Crain announced “signs of life, we have a return signal we’re tracking.”  “We have a signal from our high gain antenna. It’s faint, but it’s there.”

“We can confirm without a doubt that our equipment is on the surface of the Moon and we are transmitting.”

With that, IM and NASA declared the landing a success — the first U.S. lunar lander since Apollo 17 in 1972 and the first successful commercial lunar lander.

In a video, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson praised the landing.

“Today for the first time in more than half a century, the U.S. has returned to the Moon. Today, for the first time in the history of humanity, a commercial company, an American company, launched and led the voyage up there and today is a day that shows the power and promise of NASA’s commercial partnerships. Congratulations to everyone involved in this great and daring quest, and Intuitive Machines, SpaceX, and right here at NASA. What a triumph. Odysseus has taken the Moon. This feat is a giant leap forward for all of humanity. Stay tuned. — NASA Administrator Bill Nelson


Hours after the landing, the full status of the lander remained somewhat uncertain, but IM posted on X that the lander is “upright and starting to send data.”

Odysseus is designed to operate for 7 days on the lunar surface while sunlight is available to allow the spacecraft’s solar cells to recharge the battery.  Six NASA payloads and six payloads for commercial customers are onboard.

  • ROLSES: Radio Observations of the Lunar Surface Photoelectron Sheath (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)
  • LRA: Laser Retro-Reflector Array (NASA Goddard)
  • NDL: Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing (NASA Langley Research Center)
  • SCALPSS: Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies (NASA Langley)
  • LN-1: Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator (NASA Marshall Space Flight Center)
  • RFMG: Radio Frequency Mass Gauge (NASA Glenn Research Center)
  • Columbia Sportswear’s Omni-Heat Infinity material
  • Embry-Riddle University’s EagleCam that will separate from the lander before touchdown and capture images as Odysseus reaches the surface
  • Jeff Koons’ “Moon Phases” sculptures
  • International Lunar Observatory Association’s ILO-X cameras
  • Galactic Legacy Lab’s Lunaprise secure lunar repository
  • Lonestar Data Holdings digital data center

The robotic CLPS missions support NASA’s Artemis program to return astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo program. NASA plans to land the next set of American astronauts near the South Pole on Artemis III in 2026. The South Pole is an area of great scientific interest because water has been detected there, likely deposited by comets over the eons and shielded from the Sun in permanently shadowed regions.

Until today, only governments had successfully landed spacecraft on the Moon: the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1960s and 1970s; China, India and Japan more recently. Not that all government attempts succeed. India’s first try in 2019 failed as did Russia’s in 2023. As for non-government efforts, a Japanese company, ispace, and an Israeli non-profit, SpaceIL, tried but failed as did Astrobotic. All the landers have been robotic except for the six U.S. Apollo crews between 1969 and 1972.

Odysseus is one of a new type of lunar lander, less expensive, but also less robust. Powered only by solar cells, not radioisotope power sources, they are not expected to survive the lunar night when sunlight disappears for 14 days and temperatures fall to -250°C (-418°F).

NASA paid IM $118 million for the IM-1 mission and spent another $11 million on the six payloads.


This article has been updated.

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