Spacecraft lying on its side after moon landing

Henry

The first US spacecraft to the moon since the Apollo era is likely lying on its side after a dramatic landing, the company that built it said on Friday.

Ground crews attempt to download data and surface photos from the unmanned craft.

The Odysseus spacecraft touched down near the moon’s south pole at 18:23 (2323 GMT) on Thursday after a terrifying final descent when ground crews had to switch to a backup system. It took a few minutes to re-establish radio contact after the craft landed.

Intuitive Machines, the private company responsible for the moon landing, initially said on social media that its hexagonal craft was upright, but CEO Steve Altemus told reporters on Friday that statement was made based on data that was not correctly interpreted.

It appears that the leg got caught on the surface and the craft then overturned. It landed horizontally on a small rock.

A NASA vehicle, called the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, will possibly be able to take pictures of Odysseus over the weekend to determine exactly where the vehicle landed.

However, Odysseus is still considered the first success for a new fleet of NASA-funded lunar landers designed to conduct scientific experiments. This will pave the way for the return of American astronauts to the moon within this decade under the Artemis program.

An attempt last month by another American company to land on the moon was unsuccessful. It put a lot on the line to show that private industry is capable of accomplishing something that the US space agency last accomplished in 1972 with its manned Apollo 17 mission.

Altemus later revealed that Odysseus’ own laser system did not activate because “someone forgot to turn on a safety switch before launch”. He says it is “an oversight on our part”.

Confirmation of the landing should have come seconds after the milestone, but almost 15 minutes passed before a faint signal was finally detected – enough to confirm the spacecraft was in one piece and had reached its objective.

Nasa paid Intuitive Machines an amount of $118 million to ship six experiments under an initiative where cargo services are outsourced to the private sector.

The US and other international partners want to develop long-term habitats on the south pole of the moon to extract ice for drinking water and rocket fuel for eventual onward journeys to Mars.

The first manned landing under Nasa’s Artemis program is expected to take place by 2026. China, meanwhile, plans to send its first crew to the moon in 2030.

The mission was the fourth attempt at a soft lunar landing by the private sector. Intuitive Machines joins the national space agencies of the former Soviet Union, the USA, China, India and Japan for an exclusive club that manages to land on the moon.