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IPFS News Link • Space Travel and Exploration

Intuitive Machines lands on moon in nail-biting descent of private Odysseus lander...

•, By Mike Wall

Odysseus is the first private spacecraft ever to land softly on Earth's nearest neighbor.

After a nail-biting descent and a tense silence from the lunar surface, the United States is back on the moon.

Odysseus, a robotic lander built by Houston-based company Intuitive Machines, touched down near the lunar south pole this evening (Feb. 22).

It was a landmark moment for space exploration: No private spacecraft had ever soft-landed on the moon before, and an American vehicle hadn't hit the gray dirt softly since NASA's crewed Apollo 17 lander did so in December 1972.

"What a triumph! Odysseus has taken the moon," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a video message the agency aired just after confirmation of a successful touchdown. "This feat is a giant leap forward for all of humanity. Stay tuned!"

Returning to the moon

The moon was a frequent target for American spacecraft during the 1960s and early 1970s. This push didn't come from mere scientific curiosity: Landing astronauts on Earth's nearest neighbor was viewed as a national security imperative, a way to demonstrate technological superiority over the nation's Cold War rival, the Soviet Union.

The U.S. famously put 12 astronauts on the lunar surface over the course of six Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972. With the moon race thus definitively won, NASA was directed to focus on other goals for its human spaceflight program — chiefly, the development and operation of the space shuttle program. 

The U.S. launched a number of robotic moon probes after the Apollo era; NASA's sharp-eyed Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been circling the moon since 2009, for example. But, some frustrating fits and starts notwithstanding, getting back to the surface was not a priority — until recently.