First privately owned spacecraft lands successfully on the Moon

A Texas-based flight company has made history after becoming the first to land a privately owned spacecraft on the Moon.

The Nova-C Odysseus lander, built by Texas-based spaceflight company Intuitive Machines (IM), landed on the Moon’s south pole region on Thursday. It was aiming to land on Malapert A, a crater 186 miles from the Moon’s south pole.

Odysseus is also the first US Moon landing since the final mission of the Apollo programme, Apollo 17, more than 50 years ago.

The “nailbiting” moment was confirmed from the control room of Intuitive Machines just before 6.40pm eastern time, prompting cheers and celebration.

According to Nasa, the official landing time of the craft was 6.23pm ET, one minute prior to the orignal predicted land time.

“Your order was delivered… to the Moon!” the organisation wrote on X. “These instruments will prepare us for future human exploration of the Moon under #Artemis.”

The spacecraft blasted off last week from Cape Canaveral in Florida on top of a Falcon 9 rocket made by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, and has performed a series of manoeuvres during its 620,000-mile journey.

Odysseus is a hexagonal cylinder about 13ft (4m) tall and 5ft (1.57m) wide and weighs 1,488lb (675kg), about the size of a British phone box.

It is part of Nasa’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, which aims to involve commercial companies in the exploration of the Moon and could pave the way for astronauts to land on the Moon as part of Nasa’s Artemis programme.

Besides Nasa’s tech and navigation experiments, Intuitive Machines sold space on the lander to Columbia Sportswear to fly its newest insulating jacket fabric; sculptor Jeff Koons for 125 mini moon figurines; and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for a set of cameras to capture pictures of the descending lander.

The pole is thought to contain water ice, which would be a valuable resource for future human exploration. Now that it is safely on the surface, Odysseus will operate for roughly a week before the lunar night sets on the south pole.

The historic event comes a month after another US spacecraft, Peregrine, failed to touch down after a fuel leak.

In a previous video describing the spacecraft’s flight path, Intuitive Machines Chief Technology Officer Tim Crain explained how the spacecraft had prepared for its descent to the lunar surface.

Odysseus needed to complete a burn manoeuvre on the far side of the moon, where the moon itself blocks direct communication with mission controllers on Earth.

“Once we get around the moon, we have on the day side of the moon the sun heating us from one side and reflected infrared light off the bright moon warming us on the other,” Mr Crain said. “Then we plunge into night and now we’re cold on both sides. It’s very tough.”

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