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Private spacecraft makes first US Moon landing in over 50 years

Private spacecraft makes first US Moon landing in over 50 years

It could be the exciting first step in getting US astronauts back on the Moon.

In a huge moment for space exploration, the first private lander has touched down on the Moon.

Not only that, but it's the first US Moon landing in over 50 years - the last time was the final landing of NASA's Apollo program in 1972.

But it wasn't entirely smooth sailing for the private spacecraft - called Nova-C Odysseus - after touching down on the Moon, it managed just a weak signal back until flight controllers scrambled to gain better contact.

Intuitive Machines/NASA/PA

Intuitive Machines, the company that built and managed the craft, eventually confirmed that it had landed upright - which is a hugely positive sign - but it's yet to give us any more details, so we don't even know if it managed to reach the Moon's south pole as planned.

A live webcast was following the historic moment, but it ended as soon as a lone, weak signal was identified from the lander.

“What we can confirm, without a doubt, is our equipment is on the surface of the moon,” mission director Tim Crain said, as tension built in the company’s Houston control center.

Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus added: “I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the surface and we are transmitting. Welcome to the Moon."

Last month another private company, Astrobotic Technology, tried to pull of a lunar landing - but was unsuccessful and crashed back to Earth. But it would seem like there are no hard feelings - Astrobotic posted its congratulations on X, formerly Twitter: "An incredible achievement. We can’t wait to join you on the lunar surface in the near future."

Both companies are part of a NASA-supported program to kickstart thet lunar economy - Intuitive Machines was given $118 million to build and fly this lander.

So what exactly happened to Odysseus? Well, a few hours before touchdown its laser navigation system failed - instead, an experimental NASA laser system had to be user last minute, with the lander taking an extra lap around the Moon to put it into place.

The 14-foot lander carries six experiments for NASA, as well as 125 mini moon figurines from American artist Jeff Koons. It's insulated with a lightweight, shimmery gold fabric that normally lines the insides of ski jackets, made by US brand Columbia Sportswear.

Odysseus blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida last week, on top of a Falcon 9 rocket made by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX.

It is solar-powered, and is intended to operate for a week - until the long lunar night sets in.

And that's not all - a second Intuitive Machines mission is set to lift off next month, which will aim to drill for resources at the Moon’s south pole.

Featured Image Credit: Intuitive Machines/ GREGG NEWTON / Contributor / Getty