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An American probe lands on the moon

An American probe lands on the moon

A probe from the American company Intuitive Machines landed on the surface of the moon, Thursday, and sent a signal that was the first of its kind to a private company, and the first landing of an American device in more than 50 years.

However, the signal received was weak and the position of the lander was not immediately clear.

“We can confirm without a doubt that our equipment is on the moon, and that we are sending a signal,” Tim Crane, director of Intuitive Machines, said during the company's live video.

The scheduled time for landing on the moon was at 5:23 pm time in Houston, Texas, where the company’s control room is located (6:23 pm Quebec time).

The Nova-C lander, which specifically carries NASA's scientific instruments, is just over four meters high. The spacecraft took off last week from Florida and entered lunar orbit on Wednesday.

The terrifying landing took about an hour.

The lasers on the lander that normally allow the device to orient itself didn't work, but the Intuitive Machines teams were able to use NASA's onboard instrument as a replacement, which was only scheduled to be tested during the mission.

About ten minutes before the moment of landing, a large boost from the engine braked the Nova-C, preparing it for a final descent, vertically from a height of 30 metres. The landing was then completely independent.

At this moment, a small machine equipped with cameras, developed by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, will be ejected from the moon to capture the big moment from the outside.

Nova-C must reduce its speed from 1,800 meters per second to one meter per second when its six feet touch the ground.

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This is the first landing of an American probe on the moon's surface since the end of the legendary Apollo program in 1972.

India and Japan were recently able to land there thanks to their national space agencies, becoming the fourth and fifth countries to do so, after the Soviet Union, the United States, and China.

But several companies – Israeli, Japanese and American – have so far failed to reproduce the same feat.

Russia also missed the opportunity to land on the moon this summer.

Lunar South Pole

The site targeted by Intuitive Machines is located about 300 kilometers from the Moon's south pole. The crater that will serve as a landing pad is named Malapert A, after the 17th-century astronomer.

The lunar South Pole is of interest because there is water there in the form of ice that can be exploited. NASA wants to send its astronauts there starting in 2026 on Artemis missions. In order to prepare for these tasks in particular, it seeks to study this area closely.

To do this, it is using its new program called CLPS (which stands for Commercial Lunar Payload Services). Instead of developing ships for the moon itself, the US space agency commissioned private companies to transport its scientific equipment there.

Intuitive Machines is one of the companies selected, and the contract amount concluded with NASA for this first mission, called IM-1, is $118 million.

The goal is to reduce overall agency costs, to be able to make the trip repeatedly, but also to develop the lunar economy. This is despite the risk of failure.

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The program's first mission, led by the American company Astrobotic, failed to reach the moon last month.

Seven days of activity

The Intuitive Machines lunar lander, an example of which was used in this mission called Odysseus, also carries six special cargoes. Among them: sculptures by contemporary artist Jeff Koons representing the phases of the moon.

NASA's six science instruments focus on preliminary observations of this yet-to-be-explored region.

Cameras placed under the moon will analyze the amount of dust dropped during landing, in order to compare it to the Apollo moon landing.

Another device will study the lunar plasma (a layer of electrically charged gas) and measure radio waves coming from the Sun and other planets.

Powered by its solar panels, the Odysseus spacecraft must operate for about seven days from the moment it lands, before nightfall on the moon's south pole.

To watch on video