Berliner Tageblatt - American spaceship facedown on the Moon after dramatic touchdown

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American spaceship facedown on the Moon after dramatic touchdown

American spaceship facedown on the Moon after dramatic touchdown

The first American spaceship on the Moon since Apollo probably face-planted into the dirt after catching on a rock during its dramatic landing, the company that built it said Friday.

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Odysseus landed near the lunar south pole Thursday at 6:23 pm Eastern Time (2323 GMT), after a nail-biting final descent when ground teams had to switch to a backup guidance system and took several minutes to establish radio contact after the lander came to rest.

Intuitive Machines, which achieved the first lunar landing by a private company, initially posted on X that its hexagonal spaceship was upright, but CEO Steve Altemus told reporters on Friday that statement was based on misinterpreted data.

The latest news, that it was lying on one side, took some shine off the accomplishment which was widely hailed as a historic achievement.

That said, "the solar arrays are being powered," said Altemus, adding that NASA scientific experiments could still be working.

But because of complications associated with the landing, a decision was taken not to shoot out an external camera to capture the landing as it happened, according to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which built the "EagleCam" device.

The camera will now be deployed from the ground to try to obtain a third-person image of Odysseus.

- Improvised fix -

Odysseus is considered the first success for a new fleet of NASA-funded lunar landers designed to carry out science investigations that pave the way for the return of American astronauts to the Moon later this decade, under the Artemis program.

A moonshot by another American company last month ended in failure, raising the stakes to demonstrate that private industry has what it takes to repeat a feat last achieved by US space agency NASA during its manned Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Underlining the technical challenges, Intuitive Machines' own navigation technology failed and ground engineers were forced to jerry-rig a solution, hastily writing a software patch to switch to an experimental NASA laser guidance system that was intended to run only as a technology demonstration.

Confirmation of landing was supposed to come seconds after the milestone, but instead around 15 minutes passed.

Finally, the company's chief technology officer Tim Crain confirmed "our equipment is on the surface of the Moon and we are transmitting," as applause broke out in mission control.

- Commercial Moon fleet -

NASA paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to ship six experiments under an initiative to delegate cargo services to the private sector to achieve savings and stimulate a wider lunar economy.

Odysseus also carries cargo for private customers, including a reflective heat wrapping developed by Columbia Sportswear used to protect the spaceship's cryogenic propulsion tank.

The United States, along with international partners, are planning to develop long-term habitats in the south pole, harvesting ice there for drinking water and for rocket fuel for eventual onward voyages to Mars.

The first crewed landing under NASA's Artemis program is set to take place no sooner than 2026. China meanwhile plans to put its first crew on the Moon in 2030, in a new era of space competition.

The mission was the fourth attempt at soft lunar touchdown by the private sector. Intuitive Machines joins the national space agencies of the Soviet Union, United States, China, India and Japan in an exclusive club.