It's Done: For the First Time, a Private Company Lands on the Moon

Published by Adrien - Friday, February 23, 2024 - Other Languages: FR, DE, ES, PT
Source: Intuitive Machines

The American company Intuitive Machines has just made lunar exploration history by becoming the first private company to achieve a lunar landing. This historic moment occurred on the night of February 22 to 23, when the Nova-C lander, nicknamed Odysseus, touched the surface of the Moon. But what makes this event so remarkable? And why are all eyes now turned towards the Malapert-A crater, near the lunar South Pole?

The Nova-C lander of Intuitive Machines flying over the lunar surface.
Credit: Intuitive Machines

After more than fifty years of absence, the United States marks its return to the Moon, a strong symbolic gesture in a context of space renewal. The last American contact with the lunar soil dates back to the Apollo missions of 1972. In the meantime, new international players, such as China, India, and Japan, have demonstrated their capability to reach our natural satellite, thus reigniting a competitive dynamic in space.

The success of Intuitive Machines, a company founded in 2013, not only illustrates the potential of private enterprises in space exploration but also the crucial role of NASA in this new chapter. Indeed, although the mission is the work of a private company, it was largely funded by NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which aims to encourage robotic lunar missions by the private sector. The collaboration between Intuitive Machines and NASA underscores a strategic approach, aiming to optimize resources while stimulating innovation in the space sector.

Mission profile: the landing of Nova-C.
Credit: Intuitive Machines

The choice of Malapert-A crater for the landing is not arbitrary. This region, located about 186 miles (approximately 300 kilometers) from the lunar South Pole, is considered an El Dorado for space agencies due to its potential ice water reserves. These resources could not only be used to sustain life in future lunar bases but also provide essential compounds, such as hydrogen and oxygen, for refueling spacecraft. Odysseus follows in the footsteps of the Indian probe Chandrayaan-3, becoming the second machine to explore this promising region.

Although Odysseus' mission is brief, limited to seven days due to the extreme conditions during the lunar night, it offers a precious opportunity to study the immediate landing environment and its impacts on the lunar soil. This mission is part of a broader movement aiming to redefine our relationship with the Moon, not only as a subject of scientific studies but also as a potential stepping stone for future space explorations.
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