SpaceX launches private lunar lander on eight-day journey to the moon

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches the Intuitive Machines' IM-1 as part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on February 15, 2024. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 15 (UPI) -- SpaceX early Thursday successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a private lunar lander that is being sent on an eight-day journey into space with a final destination of the moon. If successful, it will be the first U.S. moon landing in five decades.

The rocket launched at 1:05 a.m. Thursday from Launch Complex 39A of the iconic Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


"Like an arrow from Cupid's bow, the next commercial lunar delivery wings its way to the moon," NASA said in a statement on X following liftoff.

First-stage separation was confirmed minutes into the flight, followed by the booster, which was on its 18th mission, returning to Earth, where it landed on Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

A little less than an hour later, the lunar lander, named Odysseus, successfully separated from the second stage of the launch vehicle and made first contact with ground control as it embarked upon its eight-day trip to the moon.

Houston-based Intuitive Machines' Nova-C lander, which is the size of a British telephone booth, is expected to reach the moon on Feb. 22, and if successful will mark the first U.S. moon landing since the Apollo program ended more than 50 years ago.


The IM-1 mission is the second under NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, which seeks to use U.S. companies to deliver science and technology to the moon as the federal government prepares for human missions.

The first CLPS flight occurred last month, attempting to land a Peregrine lunar lander on the moon's surface, but it never made it. The lander suffered a "critical loss of propellant" following a successful launch.

NASA said in a statement it has six instruments aboard the Nova-C lander that will conduct scientific research and demonstrate technologies to better understand the lunar surface and improve landing precision for missions to the lunar south polar region.

"The payloads will collect data on how the plume of engine gases interacts with the moon's surface and kicks up lunar dust, investigate radio astronomy and space weather interactions with the lunar surface, test precision landing technologies and measure the quantity of liquid propellant in Nova-C propellant tanks in the zero gravity of space," NASA explained.

It was SpaceX's 14th launch this year.

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