After a few tense minutes troubleshooting some communications issues, Odysseus has officially become the first privately constructed spacecraft to land on the moon. Mission Director Tim Crain announced that “Odysseus has a new home.” The uncrewed lunar lander likely touched down near at an impact crater by the moon’s south pole called Malapert A at 6:24 p.m. EST on February 22, 2024. Built by Houston-based Intuitive Machines, “Odie” is the first American spacecraft to land on the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. 

“I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the surface, and we are transmitting,” Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus announced on the webcast. “Welcome to the moon.” While the company has confirmed that it has made contact with the lander, the state of the spacecraft is not yet clear.

It landed in a region that is about 3.5 billion years old. This landing site is near some craters and cliffs, on the side of the moon that is visible from the Earth and could be prime future landing spot for astronauts. Scientists believe that the permanently shadowed craters hold frozen water, which could be used for drinking water during the crewed Artemis missions scheduled later this decade

[Related: ‘Odie’ snaps its first images of Earth on its way to the moon.]

During the livestream, NASA administrator Bill Nelson announced that today begins “a new adventure in science, innovation, and American leadership in space. Today is a day that shows the power and promise of NASA’s commercial partnerships. Congratulations to everyone involved in this great endearing quest at Intuitive Machines, Space X, and right here at NASA.”

On Wednesday February 21, Intuitive Machines announced that Odysseus had fired its engine for six minutes and 48 seconds. This slowed it down enough to be pulled into the moon’s orbit about 57 miles above the lunar surface. 

Odysseus successfully launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on February 15 at 1:05 a.m. EST. The uncrewed lander completed a 230,000-mile journey towards the moon, sending back some images of the Earth along the way. Only government-funded programs from Russia, China, India, the United States, and most recently Japan have performed a successful lunar landing. 

The spacecraft is a hexagonal cylinder with six landing legs and stands at roughly 14 feet tall and five feet wide. Intuitive Machines calls the spacecraft design Nova-C and notes that it’s about the size of red London telephone booths. When completely loaded with fuel, it weighs about 4,200 pounds

An artist’s rendition of Odie on the moon. CREDIT: Intuitive Machines
An artist’s rendition of Odie on the moon. CREDIT: Intuitive Machines

NASA is the main sponsor of the mission, paying Intuitive Machines about $118 million to deliver its payload to the moon. NASA hopes that this mission will jumpstart the lunar economy ahead of future crewed Artemis missions. The six NASA navigation and tech experiments in the lander’s payload will collect data critical for the planned missions. Odysseus is also carrying a camera built by students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, a prototype for a future moon telescope, and an art project by Jeff Koons. Koons told The New York Times that the project was inspired by his son, Sean Koons. It includes 125 stainless steel sculptures of the moon that are named after inspiring historical figures, including Ada Lovelace, Plato, and Leonardo da Vinci. 

[Related: This private lander could be the first US machine on the moon this century.]

Odysseus’s success comes one month after Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander failed to complete its mission. The spacecraft burned in the Earth’s atmosphere about 10 days after a broken fuel tank and massive leak caused the mission to fail. Other attempts to get a privately-built lunar lander on the moon include Israel’s Beresheet lander in 2019 and Japan’s Hakuto-R Mission 1 lander in 2023

This is a developing story, please check back for more details.

UPDATE, February 22, 2024, 8:53 p.m. EST: Two hours after successfully landing on the moon, Intuitive Machines confirmed on X that “Odysseus is upright and starting to send data.”

UPDATE, February 23, 2024 8:19 a.m. EST: This story has been update with images taken by Odysseus while in orbit and an artist’s rendition of what the lander could look like on the lunar surface.

UPDATE, February 26, 2024 8:23 a.m. EST:  According to Intuitive Machines, the moon lander tripped and fell during its touchdown and is lying on its side. However, it is still functioning. During landing maneuvers, one of its legs got stuck in the lunar surface, causing it to fall over a rock.