Intuitive Machines' lunar lander takes off for the moon, aims to land American craft in decades

Intuitive Machines' Nova-C lander launched early Thursday morning atop a Falcon 9 rocket from SpaceX at 1:05 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA said. The mission, called IM-1, was originally slated to launch on Valentine's Day but was delayed due to a methane fuel issue. The Nova-C lander, called Odysseus and nicknamed Odie, separated from SpaceX's Falcon 9 at approximately 1:53 a.m. EST. It is now on a direct trajectory to the moon and will enter lunar orbit to attempt to land around the south pole region in the coming days. The attempt is expected to take place around February 22.

The IM-1 launch was streamed on NASA's websites, social media channels, and NASA TV, as well as on Intuitive Machines and SpaceX's respective websites and social media. Odysseus is carrying a variety of items to the moon, including an array of equipment and science experiments for NASA, which Intuitive Machines will be paid $118 million to deliver. The company is also launching a series of sculptures by artist Jeff Koons as part of an NFT crypto project and material developed to insulate the lander by Columbia Sportswear.

The launch comes after Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology's failed attempt to land its Peregrine lunar lander on the moon's surface in January due to a catastrophic fuel leak shortly after takeoff. Astrobotic chose to have the Peregrine return to Earth, where it burned up in the atmosphere upon reentry rather than let it drift in space, enter orbit, or crash into the moon.

The IM-1 and Astrobotic's Peregrine missions form the first of numerous lunar missions planned as part of NASA's public-private partnership called the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. NASA hopes the program will bring down the costs of its own missions and facilitate two lunar deliveries per year. It has earmarked $2.6 billion in funding for contracts through 2028, for which 14 American companies have been selected to bid for contracts, including Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Lockheed Martin Space.

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