Moon landing attempt to lift off as US aims to return for first time in over 50 years

Intuitive Machines' Nova-C lunar lander
Intuitive Machines' Nova-C lunar lander that is hoping to make history by landing on the Moon - Getty Images/Brett Coomer

The US could return to the Moon for the first time in more than 50 years this month with the touchdown of the first private lunar lander.

The Nova-C spacecraft has been designed by US-based Intuitive Machines and is scheduled for lift-off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Wednesday.

If all goes to plan, it will land on the Moon on February 22, the first time the US has made a soft landing on the lunar surface since the final Apollo mission in 1972.

It would also mark the first time a private company has landed on the Moon, following a number of failed attempts over the past year, and could usher in a new era of commercial lunar exploration.

The spacecraft is carrying payloads for Nasa to help the agency prepare for humans returning to the Moon from 2025 under the Artemis mission.

It will land in Malapert A crater, about 185 miles from the lunar South Pole, which is one of the candidate sites for the Artemis mission.

“We’re getting even closer to the South Pole,” said Susan Lederer, Nasa project scientist for the IM-1 mission. “That’s really good, for understanding the science and what the Moon is like at the South Pole because of course the Artemis base camp is planned to be at the South Pole.

“So it helps us to really start to understand the geology of where the astronauts are going to end up landing on the surface of the Moon.”

Computer-generated image of Intuitive  the Nova-C lunar lander on the Moon
What Intuitive Machines and Nasa are hoping to see after the Nova-C lunar lander takes off from Cape Canaveral on Wednesday - Intuitive Machines and Nasa

The lander will also plant a lunar node, the first in a suite of nodes which will eventually form lunar GPS, to aid navigation, and help pinpoint landing sites.

Shortly before landing, the spacecraft will launch ‘EagleCam’ a cube of cameras which will take a series of images, providing the first film of a spacecraft landing on the Moon.

Tim Crain, Intuitive Machines’ chief technology officer, said: “The best we have is from the Apollo missions. You land and you set up a camera and you see them take off, but no one’s ever seen a lander land on another celestial body. So that’s very exciting for us.”

The mission is also carrying a payload from Columbia Sportswear to test its omni-infinity insulator material in the harsh conditions.

If successful, two more missions are planned, one of which will drill down into the lunar surface.

Landing on the Moon is notoriously tricky, with only the US, Russia, India, China and Japan having achieved the feat. All attempts by private companies have failed so far,

Last month, Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar lander was forced to abandon its mission after springing a fuel leak just a few hours after launch.

And in April last year, the Hakuto-R lander, built by the Japanese company ispace, lost contact with mission controllers and crashed onto the lunar surface.

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