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US Moon Lander Still Working After Rough Landing, May Not Last Too Long

NASA paid $118 million to fly its experiments to the hilly and shadowed south polar region.

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Photo: Intuitive Machines
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The first U.S. spacecraft to land on the moon since the Apollo era was still working Wednesday but not for long, company officials said.

Intuitive Machines, the company that built the lander, released new photos that showed at least one broken leg on the six-legged spacecraft. The lander came in too fast, skidded and tumbled over as it touched down near the moon's south pole last Thursday, hampering communications and power.

CEO Steve Altemus said the lander, named Odysseus, was still generating solar power Wednesday even though it was on its side. He said flight controllers would put the craft to “sleep” later Wednesday, then see if it can be awakened in three weeks, once lunar night ends.

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A Wednesday night shutdown would be an early end for the second mission under NASA's commercial program for lunar deliveries But it far outpaced a rival's failed effort last month; that lander had a fuel leak and came crashing back to Earth.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said he considers the Odysseus mission a success, given that all six of the space agency's experiments on the lander were still working as of Wednesday morning, six days into what should have been eight days of operations. But he noted: “There's a big difference on landing a crew and landing a bunch of instruments.”

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The space agency paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to fly its experiments to the hilly and shadowed south polar region. That's where NASA plans to land astronauts in another few years as part of its Artemis program, named after Apollo's mythological twin sister.

NASA safely landed 12 Apollo astronauts on the moon from 1969 through 1972, then withdrew from surface operations until Odysseus' arrival last Thursday.

Intuitive Machines is the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

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