Odysseus, a Private Lunar Lander, Launches Toward the Moon

Another month, another try at the moon.

A robotic lunar lander launched into space early Thursday morning. If all goes well, on Feb. 22 it will become the first American spacecraft to gently set down on the moon’s surface since the Apollo 17 moon landing in 1972.

It would also become the first private effort to reach the surface of the moon in one piece. Three earlier attempts, by an American company, a Japanese company and an Israeli nonprofit, failed.

The company in charge of this mission, Intuitive Machines of Houston, is optimistic.

“I feel fairly confident that we’re going to be successful softly touching down on the moon,” Stephen Altemus, the president and chief executive of Intuitive Machines, said in an interview. “We’ve done the tests. We tested and tested and tested. As much testing as we could do.”

The Nova-C moon lander is about the size of a British phone booth according to Intuitive Machines. This particular lander is named Odysseus.Credit…Intuitive Machines

If private companies can pull off this feat, at a cost much lower than a traditional NASA mission, that will open the door to wider exploration of the moon by NASA and commercial endeavors.

“We’re trying to create a marketplace in a place where it didn’t exist,” Joel Kearns, an official in NASA’s science mission directorate, said during a news conference on Tuesday. “But to do that, we have to do it in a costconscious manner.”

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