On Thursday, lunar company Intuitive Machines is set to make history with their IM-1 mission, which aims to achieve the first American lunar landing since the Apollo era. The company’s goal is to soft land near the moon’s south pole around 6:24 p.m. ET. If successful, Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C cargo lander, named “Odysseus,” would be the first U.S. spacecraft to land on the lunar surface since 1972. Notably, Intuitive Machines would become the first private company to accomplish this feat, as all previous successful landings have been led by government agencies.

Intuitive Machines, based in Houston, Texas and founded in 2013, went public a year ago. Despite experiencing an all-time low in early January, the company’s stock has surged more than 300%, with a recent dip of 3% in Thursday trading. Wall Street analysts attribute this rally to investor excitement surrounding the IM-1 mission’s progress and potential successful outcome.

Odysseus Mission Details

The IM-1 mission’s target is the “Malapert A” crater, located approximately 300 kilometers from the moon’s south pole. Following the landing, Intuitive Machines plans to operate Odysseus on the lunar surface for up to seven days. The mission, launched on a SpaceX rocket on Feb. 15, is carrying 12 government and commercial payloads, six of which are for NASA under an $118 million contract. With a height of 4.3 meters and leg spread of 4.6 meters, the hexagonal lander is comparable in size to an SUV placed vertically.

NASA’s Involvement and Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS)

Although IM-1 is an Intuitive Machines mission, not a NASA-led initiative, it marks the second mission under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The program’s goal is to deliver science projects and cargo to the moon regularly in support of NASA’s Artemis crew program. NASA sees CLPS missions as valuable learning experiences and aims to establish a network of companies capable of executing low-cost lunar missions.

Intuitive Machines’ IM-1 mission is part of a broader geopolitical race to the moon, with various countries investing heavily in lunar programs. While the United States is represented by Intuitive Machines, other nations, including rivals and allies, are also intensifying their lunar efforts. For instance, Japan recently became the fifth country to successfully land on the moon, following Russia, the U.S., China, and India. Despite over 50 attempts to land on the moon since the 1960s, success rates have been inconsistent, fueling the ongoing modern moon race.

Intuitive Machines’ IM-1 mission represents a significant milestone in American space exploration, demonstrating the capabilities of a private company in lunar missions. As the global interest in lunar exploration continues to grow, missions like IM-1 contribute to a new era of space exploration with potential geopolitical implications.

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