Privately built lunar lander aims to be first to touch down on moon

A robotic spacecraft will attempt a historic landing on the moon Thursday, aiming to become the first privately built craft to touch down on the lunar surface, as well as the first American vehicle to accomplish the feat in more than 50 years.

The lander, built by Intuitive Machines, is expected to touch down on the lunar surface at 4:24 p.m. ET, earlier than the Houston-based company initially estimated earlier this week. If successful, the lander will be the first American spacecraft on the moon since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander, nicknamed Odysseus, launched into space on Feb. 15 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The 14-foot-tall lander then spent six days cruising more than 620,000 miles to reach the moon.

The landing attempt will be livestreamed on NASA TV, beginning at 3 p.m. ET.

The mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which the space agency set up to support development of moon landers by private-sector companies. NASA eventually plans to hire these companies to transport cargo and scientific instruments to the lunar surface as part of the agency’s broader ambitions to return astronauts to the moon.

NASA awarded Intuitive Machines $118 million to carry out the moon landing.

Last month, a separate company tried but failed to send a lander to the moon under the same NASA program. That spacecraft, built by Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology, suffered a crippling malfunction shortly after launch that forced the company to scrap the entire mission.

Intuitive Machines said Wednesday on X that the Odysseus lander “continues to be in excellent health,” adding that the landing attempt will be the spacecraft’s “hardest challenge yet.”

As it descends to the lunar surface, Odysseus will be targeting a landing site near a crater called Malapert A, close to the moon’s south pole. The moon’s south polar region has long been tantalizing for scientists because water ice is thought to be relatively abundant in the region’s permanently shadowed craters.

Odysseus is carrying a mix of commercial cargo and NASA science instruments on its journey.

If the landing is successful, Odysseus will make history as the first commercial spacecraft on the moon. Intuitive Machines will also join an elite club: Only the space agencies of the United States, the former Soviet Union, China, India and Japan have successfully carried out a controlled or “soft” landing on the moon.

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