SpaceX Launches Private Moon Lander

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Precedented

Elon Musk's SpaceX has launched a privately-owned Moon lander, which could set an historic precedent for the United States.

As Space.com reports, the Odysseus lander, which is owned and operated by the startup Intuitive Machines, was launched atop one of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets in the wee hours of the morning.

If successful, the Odysseus lander will be both the first private lunar lander in history to make safe landfall on the surface of the Moon and the first American craft to touch down there since the Apollo 17 mission in late 1972 — with the operative word here being "if."

Early last month, another company, the Pittsburgh-based startup Astrobotic, tried to get its own Moon lander onto the lunar surface with the help of NASA funding. Instead of nailing the landing, however, Astrobotic's Peregrine craft suffered a "critical" injury, spun out into low-Earth orbit, and eventually burned up in our atmosphere.

What's worse, the Astrobotic launch failure was far from the first to fall short. As The Economist explains, only two of the five landers, private and public alike, that attempted launches last year actually made it — and the Japanese one landed upside down.

Moon Age

As NASA continues to push back the launch dates of its own Artemis lunar mission — due, ironically, to issues related to SpaceX — which will eventually see human boots on the Moon for the first time in more than half a century, the viability of these incredibly expensive missions becomes all the more important.

With its 11 payloads — six from NASA and five from commercial clients — there's clearly a lot riding on Odysseus. As such, the folks at Intuitive Machines are publicly optimistic about the lander's chances.

"It is a profoundly humbling moment for all of us," Trent Martin, the company's vice president of space systems, said press conference earlier in the week, per Space.com. "The opportunity to return the United States to the Moon for the first time since 1972 demands a hunger to explore, and that's at the heart of everyone at Intuitive Machines."

The hunger is clearly there, though one must also have an appetite for disappointment to succeed in the harsh lunar landing business.

More on the Moon: New Chinese Lander to Start Building Base From Moon Dust Bricks