Intuitive Machines' lunar lander tripped and fell

Still works, though, says CEO, promising pics any day now

Intuitive Machines' Odysseus lander last week became the first American lander to touch down on the Moon in 50 years – albeit landing on its side.

Initially the Texas-based private firm said Odysseus was "upright and starting to send data" but later corrected this assessment during a press conference.

CEO Stephen Altemus used a tiny model of the spacecraft to illustrate its actual position during a press conference on February 24.

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Altemus said Intuitive Machines believes the spacecraft moved downward vertically at about six miles per hour (9 kph) and horizontally at about two miles per hour (3.2 kph) before one of its landing feet caught on a lunar surface feature and it tipped over.

"We believe this is the orientation of the lander on the Moon," he explained, demonstrating the lander model leaning on a makeshift rock.

Altemus then detailed that the solar arrays can still receive sunlight and produce power, and the payloads are all in view and collecting science.

One item within the cargo, however, was on its side – a commercial customer's piece of art. The lander's tipped position has also resulted in slower and less reliable data transmissions.

Altemus said images captured by Odysseus will be available soon, as will snaps of the lander captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

During the mission, the Intuitive Machines team said they were concerned that the lander could get lost when they detected a faulty piece of navigation equipment. The team then bypassed the company's own programming and patched in data from NASA's Navigation Doppler Lidar to land the craft.

Odysseus thus became the first spacecraft launched by a private company to land on the Moon.

Commercial attempts have been made in the past, such as that of Astrobotic's Peregrine lander, which experienced a critical fuel leak and failed to enter lunar orbit.

Publicly funded attempts continue to fail as well. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon last month performed an unfortunate lunar faceplant.

"If you think back from Apollo days there wasn't one mission that went absolutely perfectly, so you have to be adaptable you have to be innovative and you have to persevere," Altemus said during the press conference.

NASA and the White House have already celebrated the mission as a success.

"For the first time in more than 50 years, new NASA science instruments and technology demonstrations are operating on the Moon following the first successful delivery of the agency's CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) initiative," commented NASA.

"Touchdown! This week, America landed a spacecraft on the Moon for the first time since 1972," the White House said on X. ®

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