Odysseus becomes first US spacecraft to land on moon in over 50 years

By Elise Hammond and Jackie Wattles, CNN

Updated 0451 GMT (1251 HKT) February 23, 2024
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9:26 p.m. ET, February 22, 2024

This is the NASA instrument that saved Odysseus' mission

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

NASA's Navigation Doppler Lidar.
NASA's Navigation Doppler Lidar. Intuitive Machines

Odysseus has now officially made history with its successful lunar touchdown — and none of it could have happened without some fast work from engineers on the ground and a breath-catching save from a NASA payload.

Before descent, Intuitive Machines, which developed the Odysseus lunar lander, revealed crucial pieces of the vehicle's navigation equipment were not working.

Fortunately, NASA — which considers itself one of many customers on this mission — had an experimental instrument already on board Odysseus that could be swapped in to make up for the malfunctioning equipment.

Engineers were able to bypass Odysseus' broken pieces and land using two lasers that are part of NASA's Navigation Doppler Lidar, or NDL, payload.

Here's how the NDL is described in IM-1's press kit:

The NDL is a LIDAR-based (Light Detection and Ranging) sensor composed of an optical head with three small telescopes and a box with electronics and photonics. NDL uses lasers to provide extremely precise velocity and range (distance to the ground) sensing during the descent and landing of the lander. This instrument operates on the same principles of radar, similar to a police radar detector, but uses pulses of light from a laser instead of radio waves and with very high accuracy. This will enhance the capabilities of space vehicles to execute precision navigation and controlled soft landings.
8:40 p.m. ET, February 22, 2024

Odysseus is "upright and starting to send data"

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

After some intense waiting, Intuitive Machines, the company behind the Odysseus lunar landing mission, has confirmed the spacecraft is "upright and starting to send data."

That's a major milestone.

An upright landing potentially puts Odysseus in a better position than even Japan's SLIM "Moon Sniper" mission. SLIM was deemed a success as it made a soft touchdown, but later was revealed to have landed in a position that left its solar panels pointed in the wrong direction, causing that spacecraft to quickly lose power.

"Right now, we are working to downlink the first images from the lunar surface," Intuitive Machines said in a post on social media platform X.

8:23 p.m. ET, February 22, 2024

Art in space: Sculpture hitches a ride to the moon on Odysseus lunar lander

From CNN's Jacqui Palumbo

Jeff Koons' "Moon Phases" is seen on the Odysseus lunar lander as it flies over the near side of the moon on Wednesday.
Jeff Koons' "Moon Phases" is seen on the Odysseus lunar lander as it flies over the near side of the moon on Wednesday. Intuitive Machines/AP

Exchanging the gallery space for a transparent box in space, the American artist Jeff Koons now has one of his works of art on the moon.

On Thursday, a sculpture called “Moon Phases" hitched a ride on the Odysseus lunar lander as it touched down on the moon. It marked the United States' first landing on the lunar surface in more than 50 years.

The artwork depicts 125 mini-sculptures of the moon contained in a box, measuring about one inch in diameter. “Moon Phases" shows 62 phases of the moon as seen from Earth, 62 phases visible from other viewpoints in space, and one lunar eclipse.

Jeff Koons holds "Moon Phases" before it was attached to the lunar lander.
Jeff Koons holds "Moon Phases" before it was attached to the lunar lander. From Jeff Koons/Instagram

Each sculpture is inscribed with the name of a groundbreaking figure in human history, including Aristotle, David Bowie, Leonardo da Vinci, Gandhi, Billie Holiday, Gabriel García Márquez, Andy Warhol and Virginia Woolf. Koons “has drawn inspiration from the Moon as a symbol of curiosity and determination,” according to a statement from his gallery, Pace.

But the art market wouldn’t be able to do much with far-flung sculptures "exhibited" in outer space, so there’s a commercial component to Koons’ project as well. Pace Verso, the NFT wing of Pace, is also offering NFTs of each sculpture, while Koons has produced larger, coinciding physical sculptures of his “Moon Phases” to remain on Earth.

7:06 p.m. ET, February 22, 2024

NASA reacts to lunar landing: "Great and daring quest"

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

NASA posted a reaction to the moon mission on social media, saying "Your order was delivered… to the Moon!"

"(Intutive Machines') uncrewed lunar lander landed at 6:23pm ET (2323 UTC), bringing NASA science to the Moon's surface. These instruments will prepare us for future human exploration of the Moon under #Artemis," the space agency posted on X, the website formerly known as Twitter.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson added during the webcast: "Today for the first time in more than a half-century, the US has returned to the moon."
"Today is a day that shows the power and promise of NASA's commercial partnerships," he added. "Congratulations to everyone involved in this great and daring quest."

Applause and celebrations could be heard on the Intuitive Machines webcast of the event before the live coverage concluded.

CNN is standing by for additional updates on the spacecraft's status.

7:17 p.m. ET, February 22, 2024

Odysseus becomes first US lander to touch down on the moon in over 50 years

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

Intuitive Machines mechanics, friends and family cheer after confirmation the lunar lander made a touchdown on the moon, in this still from the webcast.
Intuitive Machines mechanics, friends and family cheer after confirmation the lunar lander made a touchdown on the moon, in this still from the webcast. NASA

The US-made Odysseus lunar lander has made a touchdown on the moon, surpassing its final key milestones — and the odds — to become the first commercial spacecraft to accomplish such a feat, but the condition of the lander remains in question.

Intuitive Machines, however, says the mission has been successful.

"I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the surface, and we are transmitting," Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus just announced on the webcast. "Welcome to the moon."

Odysseus is the first vehicle launched from the United States to land on the moon’s surface since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Mission controllers from Intuitive Machines, the Houston-based company that developed the robotic explorer, confirmed the lander reached the lunar surface Thursday evening.

The uncrewed spacecraft traveled hundreds of thousands of miles from its Florida launch site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to the moon before making its final, perilous swoop to the lunar surface.

6:53 p.m. ET, February 22, 2024

Odysseus: "Welcome to the moon"

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

The Odysseus lunar lander, nicknamed “Odie” or IM-1, is on the moon's surface and transmitting, Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus just announced on the webcast.

"I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the surface, and we are transmitting," Altemus said. "Welcome to the moon."

The exact state of the lander is not yet clear. But the company has confirmed it has made contact.

6:38 p.m. ET, February 22, 2024

The Odysseus lander is "not dead yet"

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

Mission control is seen in this still from the livestreamed webcast.
Mission control is seen in this still from the livestreamed webcast. NASA

Lunar landing missions typically offer moments of uncertainty. And though we're waiting for confirmation of communications, there have been some promising updates:

"We have an onboard fault detection system for our communications that after 15 minutes with lack of communication will power cycle the radios and then after that for another 15 minutes it will then switch antenna pairs, so we have some time here to evaluate," an Intuitive Machines flight controller said on the stream.

"We're not dead yet," they emphasized.

The company has also confirmed a "faint signal" — potentially representing signs of life from the spacecraft.

6:31 p.m. ET, February 22, 2024

Intuitive Machines is troubleshooting communications after the expected landing time passes

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

The 6:24 p.m. ET landing time has come and gone.

Intuitive Machines knew it couldn't make contact with the lander right at the moment of touchdown, but expected to potentially have an answer shortly after.

It's now a waiting game to see whether Intuitive Machines can establish communications.

6:20 p.m. ET, February 22, 2024

A good performance from Odysseus' engine

From CNN's Jackie Wattles

The webcast just announced that the engine is "nominal" — aerospace parlance for working as expected.

The spacecraft is functioning all on its own.

The expected landing time is 6:24 p.m. ET, though there could be wiggle room.

We could learn right at that time if Odysseus made a safe touchdown, or it could take a few minutes, according to the webcast.