The Odysseus lunar lander, nicknamed Odie, is the first US spacecraft to touch down on the moon in over 50 years. The lander is upright and sending data, according to Intuitive Machines, Odie’s developer. This is the first private moon landing in history, though NASA is also involved with the mission.

Odie’s journey to the Moon launched from Cape Canaveral on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, firing Odie into Earth’s orbit last week at 25,000 miles per hour (about 40,000 kilometers per hour) to escape Earth’s gravity. Then the rocket detached from Odie, leaving the lunar lander to fly alone towards the Moon. The robotic explorer then consulted an onboard starmap so it could position its solar panels and adjust trajectory. Then the most challenging part of the journey, an 11 minute rocket burn to slow the craft for a soft landing. The Moon has no atmosphere to slow a landing, so the flying must be very precise.

Real image of Odie taken by the Falcon rocket

The final few hours before touchdown were “nail-biting suspense” when the lander’s laser navigation system failed. The company’s flight control team had to improvise with an experimental NASA laser system, the lander taking an extra orbit around the moon to allow time for the last-minute fix.

As it descended to the lunar surface, Odysseus targeted a landing site near a crater called Malapert A, close to the Moon’s south pole. The south polar region has long been enticing for scientists because water ice is thought to be fairly abundant in the region’s permanently-in-shadow craters.

IM is the abbreviation for Intelligent Machines

The experimental Navigation Doppler Lidar (or NDL) that made the landing possible is a new technology that aimed to test out how future landers would make more precise landings on the moon. So the mission has already exceed expectations!

Unfortunately, Odie seems to have suffered the same fate as the Japanese SLIM lander when it landed last month, i.e., while it landed intact, it did not land upright. The flight plan called for the spacecraft to land with a purely vertical velocity of just 2 mph, roughly a moderate walking pace. Because of the unexpected lateral velocity, however, engineers believe one of the lander’s six footpads either hit a rock or got caught in a crevice, causing the spacecraft to tip over.

An experimental camera system built by students at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, designed to be released before touchdown to capture imagery of the lander during its final descent, was not deployed as planned because of software constraints related to the guidance system problem.

The “EagleCam” package will be ejected later, Altemus said, shot out dozens of feet to one side. If all goes well, the cameras will show Odysseus resting on its side, giving engineers – and the public – the best views available of the spacecraft’s orientation.

“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.”

The U.S. famously landed 12 astronauts on the lunar surface over the course of six Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972. The “space race” race thus definitively won, NASA was directed to focus on other goals for its human spaceflight program — the Space Shuttle.

Science fiction authors had imagined Moon landings for over a century, but no one imagined that after we’d reached the Moon, we’d stop going. Earth orbit missions, the International Space Station, robotic missions, etc, are all necessary and have great benefits to science and everyday life. Yet returning to the Moon seems like a good idea, to explore further than we could in 1972. Though it is debatable if we need a Lunar Colony…maybe Mars could be the next astronaut mission.

But the US committed to a return of humans to the Moon with the Artemis program as a step towards a Mars mission. “The goal here is for us to investigate the moon in preparation for Artemis, and really to do business differently for NASA,” Sue Ledere of Nasa said. There is a global rise in space missions, Japan became the 5th nation to land a few weeks ago.

Robert Heinlein wrote a story called The Man Who Sold the Moon, about a fictional entrepreneur who was committed to personally landing on and controlling the moon. He finances the venture by selling the surface of the moon as a gigantic advertising platform that can’t be turned off. An all too plausible scenario that we should try and avoid with private space missions. Odysseus runs on solar power, and will last for seven days before the lunar night begins over the polar landing spot. This will end the mission…for now.

Artists concept of Odysseus, the craft has no camera


David Raiklen
David Raiklen

David Raiklen wrote, directed and scored his first film at age 9. He began studying keyboard and composing at age 5. He attended, then taught at UCLA, USC and CalArts. Among his teachers are John Williams and Mel Powel.
He has worked for Fox, Disney and Sprint. David has received numerous awards for his work, including the 2004 American Music Center Award. Dr. Raiklen has composed music and sound design for theater (Death and the Maiden), dance (Russian Ballet), television (Sing Me a Story), cell phone (Spacey Movie), museums (Museum of Tolerance), concert (Violin Sonata ), and film (Appalachian Trail).
His compositions have been performed at the Hollywood Bowl and the first Disney Hall. David Raiken is also host of a successful radio program, Classical Fan Club.