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New Photos Show Catastrophic Damage to NASA's Moon Lander

Lunar Carnage

NASA's historic return to the lunar surface was marred by a series of obstacles, both physical and software-related.

The Odysseus lander, built and operated by Houston-based space company Intuitive Machines and funded by NASA, touched down near the Moon's south pole last week, becoming the first commercially built lander to survive the trip.

But instead of landing vertically, the lander kept moving sideways, scraping along the surface and eventually toppling over. One recently shared image shows the resulting damage, with stripped pieces littering the lunar surface behind it.

"This is a picture of Odie on the surface of the moon, touching down with its engine firing," Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus told reporters during a Wednesday news conference. "You see here, the landing gear, pieces broken off there on the left of the image."

Pro Tip

Problems first arose during the hours leading up to touchdown. First, Odysseus started experiencing navigation issues.

"We sat there upright with the engine firing for a period of time and then as (the engine) wound down, the vehicle just gently tipped over," Altemus said.

Miraculously, despite the tumble, the lander still managed to deliver data from all six NASA instruments on board, several of which were designed to collect information while the spacecraft was on its way to the Moon and making its descent.

"The big goal was to land your equipment softly so you could get data from it after you land — and that was done successfully," Joel Kearns, the deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s science mission directorate, told reporters.

Minutes to Midnight

It's unclear how much time Odie still has left. Thanks to its antennas pointing in a less-than-ideal direction, engineers are racing against the clock to download as much data as they can.

And time is ticking as lunar night is right around the corner, which will plunge the lander into complete darkness.

"We are projecting a time where the solar power generation will not allow Odie to continue sending down telemetry," Altemus said.

There's still a small chance Odyssesus may make up after a frosty two-weeks-long night. After all, Japan's Smart Lander for Investigating Moon — which also landed at an awkward angle — miraculously woke up and started transmitting again on Monday.

More on the lander: NASA’s Precious Moon Lander Has Toppled Over