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Odysseus becomes first private spacecraft to land on the moon

The Odysseus lander touched down on Thursday night
The Odysseus lander touched down on Thursday night - AP

A Houston-based company completed the United States’ first successful lunar landing in more than 50 years, after a dramatic touchdown on Thursday night.

It was feared the landing of the hexagon-shaped Odysseus would have to be abandoned or delayed after its onboard laser-based navigation system failed.

However, Intuitive Machines technicians technicians managed to use a Nasa instrument which was part of the payload to complete the mission.

It was described as a “white knuckle” ride by Bill Nelson, the Nasa administrator.

At about 11.40pm UK time, word from mission control came “our equipment is on the moon”, followed by ecstatic applause from the team on the ground.

The news was confirmed by Intuitive’s chief executive Steve Altemus, who said: “I know this was a nail biter but we are on the on the surface and we are transmitting.

“Welcome to the Moon.”

This was the first successful moonshot by the US since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Engineers celebrate after the historic landing was a success
Engineers celebrate after the historic landing was a success - AP

The last attempt, in mid-January, ended in failure after the Peregrine landing craft started leaking fuel, which left it unable to carry out the planned soft landing.

Instead, Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology turned the Peregrine into a satellite, testing scientific instruments as it flew around space before being disposed of by flying into the earth’s atmosphere at high speed.

The purpose of the trip is to help Nasa prepare for landing on the moon under the Artemis mission in the future with the American space agency effectively hitching a ride on Odysseus.

Experts say that trying to land a spacecraft on the moon is fraught with difficulties, and more than half the attempts have failed.

Government missions by the US, Russia, India, China and Japan have managed to do so, but this has never been achieved by private enterprise.

The mission’s destination was Malapert A, an impact crater 300 kilometres (180 miles) from the lunar south pole.

An image of the moon's northern equatorial highlands taken by Odysseus
An image of the moon's northern equatorial highlands taken by Odysseus - GETTY IMAGES

Odysseus nicknamed “Odie” or IM-1 was fitted with a battery of instruments including cameras to investigate how the lunar surface changes as a result of the engine plume from a spaceship, and a device to analyse clouds of charged dust particles that hang over the surface at twilight as a result of solar radiation.

It had been fired into the earth’s orbit last week from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket., which was fuelled by a new type of supercooled liquid oxygen, liquid methane propulsion system that allowed it to race through space.

Once it was detached from the rocket, the lunar lander was left to fly through space, being guided by an onboard map of the stars.

The hexagon-shaped lander, nicknamed ‘Odie’
The hexagon-shaped lander, nicknamed ‘Odie’ - REUTERS

It sent its first images of the earth a week ago.

The mission, like its predecessor, represents the increasing involvement of private companies in space exploration. Research by Morgan Stanley suggested that commercial activity will be worth $1.1 trillion by 2040.

Nasa has been keen to have private companies share the financial burden and the agency paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to ship its hardware under a new initiative called Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS).

Staff watched nervously on Thursday night as the craft approached the moon's surface
Staff watched nervously on Thursday night as the craft approached the moon's surface - GETTY IMAGES

Craig Hardgrove, Assistant Professor of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, said space is becoming easier to access.

“Nasa has used a different type of architecture than it did before,” he said.

“The technology had to be reinvented to get us back to this point. They are embracing a new kind of risk posture, which will make space easier to access.

“It will mean that more people and not just small groups of astronauts will get to enjoy the grandeur of space and the moon.”