Lunar Night Permanently Ends the Odysseus Mission

Image of Odysseus moon landing
This image shows one of the Odysseus lander's legs breaking due to the shock of first contact on the moon. (Credit: Intuitive Machines)

On February 15th, Intuitive Machines (IM) launched its first Nova-C class spacecraft from Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. On February 22nd, the spacecraft – codenamed Odysseus (or “Odie”) – became the first American-built vehicle to soft-land on the lunar surface since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. While the landing was a bit bumpy (Odysseus fell on its side), the IM-1 mission successfully demonstrated technologies and systems that will assist NASA in establishing a “sustained program of lunar exploration and development.”

After seven days of operation on the lunar surface, Intuitive Machines announced on February 29th that the mission had ended with the onset of lunar night. While the lander was not intended to remain operational during the lunar night, flight controllers at Houston set Odysseus into a configuration that would “call home” if it made it through the two weeks of darkness. As of March 23rd, the company announced that their flight controllers’ predictions were correct and that Odie would not be making any more calls home.

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Odysseus Is Shut Down After Sending Snapshots From Moon Landing

Image of Odysseus moon landing
This image shows one of the Odysseus lander's legs breaking due to the shock of first contact on the moon. (Credit: Intuitive Machines)

Update: On March 23, Intuitive Machines said that its Odysseus lander failed to re-establish contact after the lunar night, and took that as confirmation that the spacecraft has “permanently faded after cementing its legacy into history as the first commercial lunar lander to land on the moon.”

Previously: Intuitive Machines says it’s putting its Odysseus moon lander to bed for a long lunar night, with hopes of reviving it once the sun rises again near the moon’s south pole.

The Houston-based company and NASA recapped Odysseus’s six days of operation on the lunar surface, shared pictures showing its off-kilter configuration, and looked ahead to the mission’s next phase during a briefing today at Johnson Space Center in Texas.

The original plan called for the solar-powered spacecraft to be turned off when the sun fell below the lunar horizon, but Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus said mission controllers would instead put the Odysseus into hibernation and try restoring contact in three weeks’ time. “We are going to leave the computers and the power system in a place where we can wake it up and do this development test objective, to actually try to ping it with an antenna and see if we can’t wake it up once it gets power again,” he told reporters.

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Odysseus Moon Lander Sends More Pictures — and We Know Where It Is

Odyssey's view of lunar terrain during approach to landing site
The Odysseus lander captured this image about 35 seconds after pitching over during its approach to the lunar landing site. The ultra-wide-angle view shows Odysseus and its landing legs at the bottom of the frame. (Credit: Intuitive Machines)

Four days after Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus lander made an off-kilter touchdown on the moon, the mission team is releasing snapshots that were taken during its descent.

The ultra-wide-angle images confirm that the lander is continuing to communicate with flight controllers, even though it’s lying in an awkward angle that limits how much data its antennas can transmit.

Meanwhile, images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have identified Odysseus’ landing spot, within a mile (1.5 kilometers) of its intended target near a crater called Malapert A in the moon’s south polar region. The bad news is that the solar-powered lander may have to go dark sooner than anticipated.

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Odysseus Moon Lander Is Tipped Over But Still Sending Data

Selfie view of Odysseus with moon in background
A space "selfie" shows the Odysseus moon lander and Schomberger Crater just before the Feb. 22 landing. (Credit: Intuitive Machines)

The bad news is that Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus lander is tipped on its side after getting tripped up during its touchdown near the south pole of the moon. The good news? The plucky robotic spacecraft is nevertheless able to send back data.

Mission managers at the Houston-based company and at NASA, which is paying $118 million to support Odysseus’ space odyssey, are working on ways to maximize the scientific payback over the next nine or 10 days. “The vehicle is stable, near or at our intended landing site,” Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus said today during a post-landing briefing at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “We do have communications with the lander … so that’s phenomenal to begin with.”

Just by surviving the descent a day earlier, Odysseus made it into the history books as the first commercial lander to arrive safely on the moon — and the first U.S.-built spacecraft to do so since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

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Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus Lander Sends Faint Signal From the Moon

Picture of lander with moon in background
A "selfie" captured before Odysseus' landing shows the lander with the lunar surface in the background. (Credit: Intuitive Machines via X / Twitter)

Intuitive Machines‘ Odysseus lander made space history today — becoming the first commercial spacecraft to survive a descent to the moon, and the first U.S.-built spacecraft to do so since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. But it wasn’t a trouble-free landing.

Ground controllers had a hard time establishing contact with the robotic lander just after the scheduled touchdown time of 6:23 p.m. ET (2323 UTC). Several minutes passed, and then Intuitive Machines mission director Tim Crain reported that there was a faint signal coming from Odysseus’ high-gain antenna.

“We’re not dead yet,” he said.

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Odysseus Moon Lander Sends Back Selfies With Earth in the Picture

Odysseus lander selfie with Earth in background
A fisheye photo captured by a camera aboard the Odysseus lander shows the lander itself with Earth in the background. (Credit: Intuitive Machines)

Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus lander has beamed back a series of snapshots that were captured as it headed out from the Earth toward the moon, and one of the pictures features Australia front and center. The shots also show the second stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched the spacecraft, floating away as Odysseus pushed onward.

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Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus Lander Begins Its Moon Odyssey

Odysseus launch on SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket rises from its Florida launch pad to send Intuitive Machines' Odysseus moon lander spaceward. (NASA via YouTube)

Now it’s Intuitive Machines’ turn to try making history with a robotic moon landing.

Today’s launch of the Houston-based company’s Odysseus lander marks the first step in an eight-day journey that could lead to the first-ever soft landing of a commercial spacecraft on the moon. Odysseus would also be the first U.S.-built spacecraft to touch down safely on the lunar surface since Apollo 17’s mission in 1972.

The lander — which is as big as an old-fashioned British phone booth, or the Tardis time portal from the “Doctor Who” TV series — was sent spaceward from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 1:05 a.m. ET (0605 UTC).

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