Los Fresnos News

Back to The Moon Again

By Mike Villarreal

On February 22, 2024, history was made as the Intuitive Machines IM-1 lander, affectionately called “Odysseus” or “Odie,” became the first commercial spacecraft to soft-land on the moon. This was also the first time in more than half a century that the US had returned to the moon since the Apollo program ended more than five decades ago.

However, hours before the landing, the spacecraft experienced minor issues, causing some brief delays. Mission control was able to confirm that they were receiving signals from the lunar surface shortly after the landing. A couple of hours later, Intuitive Machines declared that the spacecraft was safe and started to send data back home.

The spacecraft’s position since landing on Thursday evening has been a key question, as controllers were getting weak signals from the vehicle and communication issues became an immediate concern. But after a couple of hours, Intuitive Machines was able to confirm that the spacecraft was safe and started to send data back home.

Odysseus landed at 6:23 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, February 22, 2024, after using its methane-fueled, onboard engine to steer itself toward the cratered surface and rapidly reduce its speed by 4,000 miles per hour.
In an unforeseeable twist, Intuitive Machines revealed that a couple of hours before landing, an issue with Odysseus’ navigation system forced the lander to rely on experimental technology. A decision was made to reassign the primary navigation sensors from Odysseus to the sensors on the NASA Doppler Lidar (NDL).

The Lidar payload is an experimental technology that NASA paid to test-fly on the mission. It was not intended to serve a functional purpose, but engineers were able to patch in an update to bypass Odysseus’ own malfunctioning equipment and make use of the experimental NASA Lidar. The NDL is designed to shoot laser beams to the ground to give exact measurements of speed and direction of flight.

The IM-1 mission comes amid a renewed international dash for the lunar surface. Since the end of the Soviet-U.S. space race of the 20th century, China, India, and Japan have all landed spacecraft on the moon, with the latter two making the first touchdown within the past six months.

In addition to NASA’s Lidar payload, five other science instruments from the space agency were also onboard Odysseus as part of Intuitive Machines’ contract with NASA, valued at up to $118 million. Odysseus is expected to operate for up to seven days on the lunar surface before the landing site is plunged into lunar night, with freezing temperatures rendering the vehicle inoperable.