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Historic moon lander likely on its side, but data are flowing, company official says

Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Science & Technology News

ORLANDO, Fla. — A day after a private company made history with a soft landing on the moon, company officials detailed what they think they know from limited data gathered and lack of imagery about the lander, including the likelihood that is on its side.

Houston-based Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander Odysseus touched down Thursday at 6:23 p.m. EST near the south pole of moon, making it the first time a commercial company had achieved the feat. It also marked the first soft landing by a U.S.-based moon lander since Apollo 17 in 1972.

“Just to clear up some confusion, we thought we were upright,” said company CEO Steve Altemus during a news conference Friday, which was what the company declared in the hours after touchdown.

He said overnight data collection, though, showed the the lander was at a severe angle and likely on its side, possibly even resting on some sort of rock on the surface.

“So that’s what tells us with fairly certain terms, the orientation of the vehicle, and hopefully we’ll get a picture here this weekend,” Altemus said. That would come from both cameras on board and from a flyby this weekend from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is expected to give a precise location and better view of the lander’s condition.

He said teams believe a leg of the lander caught on the surface as it came in around 6 mph. It was supposed to come in slower at around 2 mph.

 

“We might have fractured that landing gear and tipped over gently,” Altemus said.

Despite the position, teams have been able to get data, if not yet imagery, from the lander, and its solar arrays have been able to maintain power.

“The vehicle is stable, near or at our intended landing site,” Altemus said. “We do have communications with the lander from the larger radio astronomy dishes around the world that are part of our lunar telemetry network and through the spacecraft from several of the antennas.”

Altemus said photos were coming.

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