US spacecraft Odysseus falls silent days after historic private moon landing

The Odysseus lander was loaded with NASA experiments worth $118 million, signifying major progress for NASA's strategy to use private companies for delivering payloads to the lunar surface.

Shantanu Poswal
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NASA's hopes for the first successful private lunar landing were realized last week when the Odysseus lander touched down near the moon's south pole, achieving a historic first for the US space agency's commercial partners. However, the mission proved short-lived after a rough landing left the spacecraft damaged and unresponsive. 

Built by Intuitive Machines, the first-of-its-kind Odysseus lander made a precarious touchdown on February 22nd. The company confirmed the spacecraft had reached the lunar surface despite an 11th hour navigation issue, but landed tilted on its side due to the malfunction.

This awkward positioning immediately impeded operations, blocking the lander's solar panels and communications abilities. Still, Intuitive Machines lauded Odysseus for exceeding expectations by remaining partially operational for over a week despite the challenges.

On Thursday, after receiving a final image transmission from the crippled spacecraft, controllers sent commands to put Odysseus into hibernation mode in hopes it could reawaken in the coming weeks. But the process drained its batteries, effectively silencing the historic privately-built lunar lander.

"Good night, Odie. We hope to hear from you again," Intuitive Machines tweeted in a somber sign-off.

Odysseus was carrying six NASA science experiments on its week-long mission, representing a major step for the space agency's plans to use commercial partners for lunar delivery. Its success, though short-lived, boosts confidence after a previous private moon lander crashed back to Earth in January. 

NASA sees such commercial landers as precursors to future manned Artemis missions to the lunar surface. The last US craft to soft-land on the moon was Apollo 17 in 1972. Odysseus' brief stint marks the first time a private American company has achieved the feat since the 1960s space race era.