The first commercial spacecraft to land on the moon

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A commercial space flight has successfully landed on the moon for the first time, beginning a new era of private lunar exploration.

After an eight-day flight, the unmanned lander of US-based Intuitive Machines landed safely on the lunar surface on Thursday, near its target, the Malapert A crater near the moon's south pole.

The landing was fraught with suspense as mission control lost contact with the lander just as it reached the surface. But about 15 minutes after the target landing time, a faint signal was finally received and mission director and chief technology officer Tim Crane announced: “Odysseus has found a new home.”

“Odysseus is upright and starting to transmit data,” Intuitive Machines added in a filing mail On X.

The mission marks the successful return of the United States to explore the moon for the first time in more than 50 years, after the end of the Apollo program in 1972. This is an important milestone in NASA's plans to send humans to the lunar south pole in 2026, relying on private companies to help reduce Costs of services such as transportation, navigation and communications.

“The United States is back on the moon,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. Today for the first time. . . A commercial company, launched by an American company that led the journey there. This demonstrates the power and promise of NASA's commercial partnerships. What a victory!

NASA said creating a commercially viable lunar economy would be vital to its ambition to establish a permanent human base on the Moon, and eventually on Mars.

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The landing “changes the whole paradigm of planetary exploration,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, a professor of space sciences at ETH Zurich who has managed NASA's science missions through 2022. So far everything has been done by governments. “With companies, we can do this at a much lower cost.”

Odysseus' safe landing was welcomed with joy at Intuitive Mission Control in Houston, Texas. In the past few hours, the lander expanded its orbit around the moon due to a malfunction in its laser navigation system and engineers were forced to use instruments from NASA's on-board payload instead.

NASA paid Intuitive $118 million to fly six science payloads, including instruments to monitor space weather from the moon and a radio beacon to aid navigation. The company was also carrying six commercial packages, including small sculptures by Jeff Koons, a camera to record the landing and a lunar archive.

The solar-powered lander will conduct experiments near the moon's south pole, and is expected to operate for about 14 days in sunlight. It is the first of three Intuitive Machines missions planned by NASA in preparation for the agency's mission Artemis missions To the lunar South Pole.

The region is rich in resources such as ice water, which can be split into hydrogen and oxygen to help maintain a permanent human presence on the moon. Last year, India became the first country to land a spacecraft in the Antarctic region.

Intuitive's soft landing comes just over a year after the company was brought to market through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company.

Stephen Altemus, co-founder and CEO, told the Financial Times that the company aims to eventually provide a range of lunar services from communications to navigation to power generation.

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“We will have the most data about the moon, and the most understanding,” he said. “You take that first step and then a whole series of unexpected and predictable activities [follow] who is that.”

Shares of Intuitive Machines, which fell from its first trading of 2023 at $10.03 to $2.32 by the start of the year, have risen sharply in recent weeks as the mission moves toward a launch on a Falcon 9 rocket built by Elon Musk's SpaceX company. It closed Thursday at $8.28, down 11 percent.

A lunar landing attempt by Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology failed last month when problems with the spacecraft's propulsion system led to a massive loss of fuel shortly after launch.

An unmanned Japanese rover landed on the moon's surface last January, but the upside-down landing made it difficult to generate solar power, limiting its ability to explore the lunar surface.

Video: Moon Rush: Launching the Lunar Economy | FT movie

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