Odysseus is a concrete step towards the first Moon colony

It may have lacked the romance of “The Eagle has landed”, but when Intuitive Machines announced that “Odysseus is upright and starting to send data”, the words ushered in a new space era.

Arguably, this is the moment humanity took the first concrete steps in becoming a multi-world species.

A private company has landed on the Moon.

It’s worth repeating. A private company has landed on the Moon.

This isn’t an Apollo-style vanity project, fuelled by unlimited government dollars and the ego of an entire nation. It is a workable, commercial lunar shuttle service and it kicks open the door to the first off-world colony.

Nasa has said it will be living and working on the Moon by the end of the decade, with humans expected to return to the surface in the next few years under the Artemis programme.

But that goal has been slipping. In January, the space agency announced that the crewed Artemis mission which will orbit the Moon has been pushed back until September 2025, while the manned lunar landing now won’t happen before September 2026.

The Odysseus lunar lander over the near side of the moon
The Odysseus lunar lander over the near side of the moon - Intuitive Machines via AP

A failure by Intuitive Machines might have proved a fatal setback because Nasa is heavily reliant on the commercial sector to take infrastructure and technology to the lunar surface.

The space agency has previously said the Intuitive Machines mission was crucial to “establishing a robust and long-term presence in deep space” so success means colonisation is finally cleared for lift-off.

Intuitive Machines specifically landed at Malapert A crater, about 185 miles from the lunar South Pole, because it is one of the candidate sites for the Artemis mission.

The spot was chosen so that Nasa could get a feel of the geology of the area, before sending humans. The area is likely to hold water – in ice form – as well as hydrogen and helium which will be crucial for creating fuel.

The Odysseus with the Earth in the background after it separated from SpaceX's second stage
The Odysseus with the Earth in the background after it separated from SpaceX's second stage - Intuitive Machines via AP

The space agency is also looking for a “Goldilocks site” that gets enough sunlight while allowing good communications with Earth. The pole was picked because it avoids being in darkness during the long lunar night, which can last around 14 Earth days.

Crucially, Odysseus is also planting a lunar node, the first in a suite of nodes which will eventually form lunar GPS. It is a symbol of the fact we’re not just going to the Moon for a look around, this time we will be staying.

Intuitive Machines has two more missions planned. The next will send an ice-mining machine to drill down into a ridge not far from the Shackleton crater to see if it can find frozen water, which will be vital to establishing a colony.

Nokia will also be testing the Moon’s first 4G network, sending out a rover more than a mile from the Odysseus node to see if it can pick a wireless signal. Wifi on the Moon is just around the corner and Nasa is keen that astronauts should have high-definition video streaming to communicate with base stations and Earth.

With comms up and running, thoughts will then turn to building a physical base.

Employees cheer as Intuitive Machines becomes the first commercial company to land on the moon
Employees cheer as Intuitive Machines becomes the first commercial company to land on the moon - Raquel Natalicchio/Houston Chronicle via AP

Nasa is looking at several options, including 3D printing bricks or structures from moon dust, which contains aluminium, silicon, iron, calcium, magnesium and titanium. Astronauts could also occupy subterranean lava tubes that snake beneath the surface, and would offer a good shelter against space radiation.

Food is also being considered. Experiments in the International Space Station have shown it is possible to grow plants in microgravity, while the University of Florida recently proved cress can be grown in moon dust.

However, the success of the first commercial mission raises important questions about who owns the Moon, or any other space resource, and who should be allowed to exploit it.

Several countries, including Japan, the US, the United Arab Emirates and even Luxembourg have passed legislation granting permission to conduct business activity on the Moon.

Space law experts have called for international treaties saying the current situation is too “ad hoc” and Thursday night’s success could spark a race for resources and land.

Until now, these issues seemed a long way off, because landing on the Moon has been notoriously tricky, with only the US, Russia, India, China and Japan having achieved the feat.


Last month, Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar lander was forced to abandon its mission after springing a fuel leak just a few hours after launch.

In April last year, the Hakuto-R lander, built by the Japanese company iSpace, lost contact with mission controllers and crashed onto the lunar surface.

The success of Intuitive Machines offers a blueprint that others can follow. It is a milestone that will excite investors and create an entirely new economy.

By the time children at school grow up, they may be able to consider a job not just in another city, or country, but on another body.

As Steve Altemus, the chief executive of Intuitive Machines, put it on Thursday evening: “Welcome to the Moon.”