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Odysseus lander shown landing on the moon with a broken leg in spectacular new images


Spectacular new images have been released of the Odysseus spacecraft landing on the Moon.

The images, along with huge amounts of data, were downloaded just hours before night fell at the lunar south pole and the lander’s batteries ran out of power.

Intuitive Machines, the American company behind the mission, said it would now be possible to reconstruct the landing to understand how Ulysses came to rest on its side.

The Odysseus lander on its side with the dark elliptical shape of a crater about 500 meters away.  Photo: Intuitive Machines/NASA
The Odysseus lander on its side with a crater about 500m away. Photo: Intuitive Machines/NASA

The company also revealed that the lander could be revived in 2-3 weeks, when the sun rises again. The big unknown is whether batteries and electronics can survive temperatures below -200°C (-328°F).

“No eulogies are planned. Only celebrations,” company co-founder Steve Altemus said at a news conference in Houston, Texas.

The first of the new images, taken as the lander landed, shows that at least one of its legs has been broken off, with rocks and dust being carried away at high speed by the force of the rocket engine.

A second photo shows the lander on its side with the dark elliptical shape of a crater about 500 m (1,640 feet) away. Scientists believe the crater could be two billion years old.

Telemetry data shows that Ulysses first landed upright, but then rolled over on a slight slope.

In the low lunar gravity, it took about two seconds to come to rest, either on its fuel tank or on a computer shelf outside its structure.

A fisheye lens view of the Odysseus spacecraft on the moon.  Photo: Intuitive Machines/NASA
A fisheye lens view of the Odysseus spacecraft on the moon. Photo: Intuitive Machines/NASA

Intuitive Machines was paid $118m (£94m) by NASA to take six scientific instruments to the Moon.

All have returned data, despite the lander’s position, and a navigation beacon is now operational and will facilitate future landings.

But the laser navigation system that should have been used for the landing failed because a pin had not been removed at the launch pad in Florida.

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Ulysses lunar mission explained

“Obviously, this is something we can resolve next time,” Mr. Altemus said.

The company was under pressure to explain why the landing was not perfect, when the much simpler Apollo spacecraft landed successfully six times in the 1960s and 1970s.

Learn more:
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Mr Altemus said: “We faced a different type of challenge. We were cost constrained, with a fixed price contract from the government.

“We had a timeline to complete this mission in the time it would take to complete an undergraduate degree. This overly constrained environment forced innovation and this was our first flight of this vehicle.”

In a joint press conference, Intuitive Machines and NASA gave an optimistic assessment of the mission so far.

NASA’s Dr Joel Kerans said the mission had been “a pioneering, first step in returning to the Moon. Many lessons will come from this.”

Intuitive Machines is planning a second mission later this year that will carry a drill to hunt for water beneath the moon’s surface. It will also have a “space hopper” that will fly into deeply shadowed craters where scientists believe there could be large amounts of ice.


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