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NASA’s New Moon Lander Is Turning Into a Disaster

Lunar Blues

NASA's new Moon lander may have touched down in one piece, but the story keeps getting more embarrassing and underwhelming for the space agency.

Intuitive Machines, the company that built the Odysseus lander, said in a series of updates posted on its website and on X that although the craft is online and beaming images back to Earth, its operators believe it won't be able to keep up communications for much longer.

"Flight controllers intend to collect data until the lander’s solar panels are no longer exposed to light," the statement reads. "Based on Earth and Moon positioning, we believe flight controllers will continue to communicate with Odysseus until Tuesday morning."

In other words, in spite of just landing a few days ago, the lander is already almost cooked — the latest piece of bad news for the mission, which was supposed to demonstrate the power of hiring independent contractors to shuttle cargo to the Moon.

https://twitter.com/Int_Machines/status/1762111937490378942

Landed Obsolescence

Built with NASA funding and launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket this month, Odysseus has been plagued with problems since liftoff. During its weeklong flight, which Intuitive Machines' CEO and co-founder Steve Altemus referred to as "spicy" in one press conference, the lander had some issues with its positioning lasers, which lead to its controllers having to implement some experimental NASA tech to land it safely.

Although it fared better than the other privately-built Moon lander NASA launched earlier this year — Astrobotic's Peregrine, which burned up in Earth's atmosphere before making it anywhere near the Moon — Odysseus did immediately topple onto its side, as its controllers hypothesize, tripping over a rock on the lunar surface. During its frenzied descent, the lander's operators also chose not to deploy its student-built camera, though it did shoot and beam back some photos as it landed.

Add it all up and it's not a pretty picture. NASA's two Moon missions this year were supposed to show that private contractors could deliver goods to the lunar surface, but instead one was completely destroyed and the other one fell over and is now dying early.

Success, of course, is in the eye of the beholder — but considering how hard NASA's been pushing its public-private partnerships as it reenters its lunar era, this doesn't feel like a home run.

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