Farewell Forever, Odie: Odysseus Lunar Lander Has ‘Permanently Faded’ – CNET

Odie is asleep for good. On March 23, Houston-based space-exploration company Intuitive Machines posted what seems to be a final update about Odysseus, the lunar lander that took the US to the moon for the first time in more than 50 years. The lander sent its final image on Feb. 22 and will remain on the moon’s surface, inoperable but remembered as a historic achievement in the annals of lunar exploration.

“As previously announced on February 29th, our IM-1 mission ended seven days after landing, as Odysseus’ mission was not intended to survive the harsh temperatures of the lunar night,” the company said in a March 23 tweet. “Before its batteries were depleted, flight controllers tucked Odie into a configuration that could call home if various systems outperformed manufacturer expectations.”

The company began listening for a wake-up signal from Odysseus, nicknamed Odie, on March 20, believing that was when enough sunlight would charge the lander’s power system and turn on its radio.

On March 23, “flight controllers decided their projections were correct, and Odie’s power system would not complete another call home,” the company tweeted. “This confirms that Odie has permanently faded after cementing its legacy into history as the first commercial lunar lander to land on the Moon.”

Final photo

“Before its power was depleted, Odysseus completed a fitting farewell transmission,” the company wrote in a tweet shared on Feb. 29. “Received today, this image from February 22nd showcases the crescent Earth in the backdrop, a subtle reminder of humanity’s presence in the universe. Goodnight, Odie. We hope to hear from you.”

While Odie wasn’t heard from again, he’s solidified a memorable place in history.

Fisheye image showing, at the bottom, part of the lander; in the middle, the lunar surface with its distinctive craters; and up top, a bright white circle against the darkness of space, with a small bright crescent to its left. Fisheye image showing, at the bottom, part of the lander; in the middle, the lunar surface with its distinctive craters; and up top, a bright white circle against the darkness of space, with a small bright crescent to its left.

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The Odysseus lander became the first US spacecraft to land on the Moon since 1972.

Muhammed Ali Yigit/Getty Images

Odysseus moon mission

The Odysseus mission was endorsed by NASA to collect scientific data from the moon’s surface. The lander, known internally as the Nova-C lander — and fondly to Intuitive employees as “Odie” — is about the size of a phone booth. It landed in the South Pole region of the moon called Malapert A at 6:24 p.m. ET on Feb. 22.

Odie was equipped with a host of instruments to investigate the lunar surface and radio waves and send photos back to the US, NASA said. The lander also featured a retroflector array that helped NASA identify its location and keep track of where to send other autonomous vehicles during future missions.

The launch and landing part of the mission lasted seven days, but it was fraught with drama after the Intuitive Machines team discovered that the lander’s range-finding system was inoperable and that the team needed to recode Odysseus to use a different range-finding system to pull off a safe landing. What’s worse, the team found that Odysseus was descending at a rate much faster than expected, increasing the likelihood of a crash. Luckily, that didn’t happen. 

What to know about Intuitive Machines

Intuitive Machines is the first benefactor of the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which the agency started in 2018. NASA researched whether to build and send a lunar lander of its own to the moon. But the space agency determined it would be cheaper, with potentially greater chances of success, to instead pay commercial companies to handle the task.

NASA paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to send Odysseus to the moon. The agency hoped to learn more about the lunar surface and where to eventually send humans back to the moon.

About the Odysseus technology

Odysseus carried several instruments for learning more about the moon and space.

En route to the moon, NASA instruments aboard the craft measured its consumption of cryogenic fuel, and while Odysseus was touching down, another instrument tested the dust the lander kicked up.

Once Odysseus was on the moon, additional technologies were used to evaluate the lunar surface. One, called the Lunar Node 1 Demonstrator, focused on autonomous navigation to show how future landers could traverse the surface. A Laser Retroflector Array conducted range-finding and distance measurements. And a radio wave instrument analyzed the moon’s surface radio waves to determine how’d they’d affect the work of humans conducting science there. Also, four cameras captured images of the lander’s environment.

Tipsy Odysseus

Intuitive Machines confirmed that Odysseus landed off-kilter after it apparently got one of its feet caught on something. The company now believes the lander is either tilted on a rock or lying on its side on the slope of a hill.

Despite the less-than-ideal positioning, Intuitive Machines was able to communicate with Odysseus and its sensors remained operational.

Short life span

Though Odysseus spent just a week on the lunar surface, that’s all it gets. The lander was slated to be operational for only nine to 10 days. After that, Intuitive Machines knew the sun would set on the landing site, and Odysseus’ radios and batteries would not survive the extremely cold lunar nights.

What’s next

The Odysseus lander mission is just the first in a string of NASA missions that aim at eventually getting astronauts back to the moon. Like Odysseus, future landers will explore the lunar surface, scout ideal locations for landing astronauts, and perform scientific research. 

For its part, Intuitive Machines isn’t done on the moon. The Odysseus mission may be over, but the company is already working on two other moon lander missions, slated to launch later this year.

Gael Cooper contributed to this article.

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