The Odysseus Lander Broke A Leg On Landing Thanks To An Overlooked Laser Switch

The recent lunar landing of the first private U.S. spacecraft marked a significant space exploration milestone. Yet, it encountered unexpected challenges upon touchdown, leaving the mission precarious. Intuitive Machines, the company behind the lander named Odysseus, faced a nerve-wracking situation as the spacecraft sustained damage and power loss.

Photos released by Intuitive Machines showcased the aftermath of the landing, revealing at least one broken leg on the six-legged Odysseus lander. The landing occurred near the moon’s south pole, but the spacecraft’s excessive speed caused it to skid and topple over upon touchdown, disrupting communications and power supply. Despite initial optimism from CEO Steve Altemus that the lander was still operational, concerns mounted as its power supply dwindled, with the possibility of losing contact looming.

Mission director Tim Crain highlighted the harsh conditions of the lunar night, expressing uncertainty about Odysseus’ survival through the extreme cold that could potentially damage its electronics and batteries. Flight controllers remained hopeful, intending to re-establish contact with the lander once the lunar night lifts in two to three weeks.

The mission encountered challenges even before touchdown, as a last-minute switch from the lander’s navigation system to NASA’s experimental guidance lasers led to a deviation from the intended landing site. Odysseus missed its target terrain significantly, descending too rapidly and hitting the lunar surface harder than anticipated, resulting in leg damage and eventual tipping over.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson acknowledged the mission’s achievements in maintaining the functionality of all six NASA experiments aboard Odysseus, emphasizing the distinction between landing instruments and crew members. Despite the setback, the mission represented a significant step in NASA’s Artemis program, aimed at landing astronauts on the moon’s south polar region in the coming years.

Though marred by challenges, intuitive Machines’ lunar landing symbolized a historic achievement as the first private business to accomplish such a feat, joining the ranks of a select group of nations that have achieved lunar landings.

While setbacks are inevitable in space exploration, the mission is a crucial step forward in advancing lunar exploration, with more commercial missions anticipated.

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