Any Landing You Can Radio Back From: IM-1 Odyssey

Screenshot from 'NASA News Conference on Intuitive Machines' First Lunar Landing' NASA video ( Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus shows what may have happened during the IM-1 Odyssey landing. (February 23, 2024)
Intuitive Machines CEO showing what may have happened when Odysseus landed. (February 23, 2024)

“Any landing you can walk away from is a good one.”
(Gerald R. Massie, photographer, following the crash-landing of his B-17 (1944) (from “Stayin alive — 16 favorite aviation quotes“, Dan Littmann, Air Facts (August 25, 2016))

So far, this has been a good year for Lunar exploration.

Both JAXA’s SLIM and Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus made good landings. Not perfect: and that’s what I’ll be talking about this week.

Tipped, Tilted and Maybe Tripped: But Successful!

Photo from Arbutus yearbook, p.113, IU Archives image no. P0022444: end of Horace Kearney's exhibition flight at Dunn Meadow. (October 11, 1911) He was okay, the airplane wasn't. Via IUB Archives, Indiana University, Bloomington.
Horace Kearney was okay, the airplane wasn’t. Exhibition flight at Dunn Meadow, Indiana. (1911)

“If you can walk away from a landing, it’s a good landing. If you use the airplane the next day, it’s an outstanding landing.”
(Chuck Yeager, Top 25 Chuck Yeager Quotes,, The Unofficial Fan Site)

By Massie and Yeager’s criteria, the Odysseus landing last week was successful. If I take “walk away” as a metaphor. Literally walking away from the landing wasn’t an option, no matter how excellent the landing was.

From Intuitive Machines: 'Odysseus captured this image approximately 35 seconds after pitching over during its approach to the landing site. The camera is on the starboard aft-side of the lander in this phase.' (image taken February 22, 2024)Odysseus carried several science packages, and at least one camera; but no rovers. Intuitive Machines has been showing us images from Odysseus, and have been receiving data from the science payloads.

I’d say it was an outstanding landing, if I define “next day” as February 23, 2024: since Odysseus was still doing its job.

If the “next day” is when the sun rises again at the landing site??

Odysseus wasn’t designed to keep running after the Lunar night. So coming back online at sunrise would be above and beyond “outstanding”.

I’ll call that a mostly-successful landing. Even though something obviously went wrong. That picture, taken by Odysseus about 35 seconds after touchdown, is looking at two of the spacecraft’s landing legs.1

When a camera that’s looking ‘down’ shows us the horizon, something’s amiss.

The IM-1 Odysseus Mission: a “Spicy” Experience and Serendipity

Image from Odysseus 'public affairs camera': Schomberger crater, image recorded when Odysseus was about 125 miles (200 kilometers) uprange from the intended landing site, and about 6 miles (10 kilometers) over the Lunar surface. Image included inJennifer M. Dooren's NASA media advisory 'NASA, Intuitive Machines to Discuss Moon Mission, Science Successes'. (February 27, 2024)
View from Odysseus, during flyover of Schomberger crater. (February 22, 2024)

Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus called the IM-1 mission/landing “spicy” during a NASA news conference. I’ve embedded that video toward the end of this post.

Odysseus is a smart lander. With some help from the folks back on Earth, it decided when and where it should take itself out of orbit, heading for the surface.

On the whole, Odysseus did a pretty good job. Particularly considering that its laser altimeters had been left in ‘safe’ mode.

IM-1 ground control wouldn’t have noticed the situation until minutes before landing — which would likely have been too late — but an unexpectedly elliptical orbit (I think I got that right) clued them in to the situation.

What with one thing and another, folks at Intuitive Machines had to rewrite some of their lander’s programming: and worked out a process for updating the Odysseus computer without giving the system fits.2

Normally, I’d go back and check my sources for that; but I’ve been sharing the household’s flu experience. If I’m wrong about the laser altimeters, I’ll come back and insert a correction. That’s the plan, at any rate.

Odysseus: On Target and “Still Kicking”

Odysseus landing near the Lunar south pole. (February 22, 2024, received from Odysseus February 27, 2024)
Odysseus landing near the Lunar south pole. (February 22, 2024)

Intuitive Machines: 'Taken on February 27th, flight controllers commanded Odysseus to capture a new image using its narrow-field-of-view camera. Previous attempts to send photos from landing and the days following returned unusable imagery. After successfully transmitting the image to Earth, flight controllers received additional insight into Odysseus' position on the lunar surface.' (February 28, 2024)All things considered, the IM-1 mission’s landing went rather well.

Granted, it was moving downwards at around six miles an hour, and traveling across the Lunar surface at about two miles an hour —

When it should have been descending straight down at two miles an hour.

Excess speed and moving sideways may be why part of a landing leg broke, and why Odysseus tipped over.

But, and I think this point is important: on its side or not, Odysseus landed.

Intuitive Machines now has a pretty-much-intact vehicle about 1.5 kilometers, less than a mile, from the point they’d had Odysseus aim for — not an extremely expensive crater.

I gather that Odysseus sent back useful data, and that Lunar sunset this week may not be the end of the IM-1 mission.

Lunar Surface Day Seven Update
IM-1 Mission Updates, Intuitive Machines (February 29, 2024) (Leap Day, 2024!)

“Still kicking.

“Odysseus continues to operate on the lunar surface. At approximately 11:00 am CST, flight controllers intend to downlink additional data, and command Odie into a configuration that he may phone home if and when he wakes up when the sun rises again.”

A key phrase there is “if and when” — the Intuitive Machines Nova-C isn’t designed to survive Lunar nights. It gets cold during those two weeks.3

First Successful Commercial Flight, Farthest South Landing

USGS Map, Lunar south polar region, detail. IM-1 Odysseus landing site marked by Brian H. Gill. See '1:1 Million-Scale Maps of the Moon'.
Lunar south polar region. Map by USGS, IM-1 Odysseus landing site marked by me: Brian H. Gill.

Two of YouTube's related videos, The IM-1 mission is a big deal for quite a few reasons.

But one of them is not that it’s “NASA’s First Landing On The Moon in 50 Years”, as a video headline said.

The “first U.S. moon landing” in upwards of a half-century, yes. “NASA’s first landing … in 50 years”, no.

Odysseus carried four payloads for NASA, and one for a NASA/University of Colorado Boulder project. But six payloads were for other clients.

The mission itself was run by Intuitive Machines.

NASA was heavily involved, since NASA’s CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) program was footing quite a bit of the bill. But again, this was not a NASA mission.

Besides being the first successful commercial flight to the Moon, Odysseus landed farther south than any other mission. So far.

LanderLanding Site
Chandrayaan-369.373°S 32.319°E
Chang’e 344.1214°N 19.5116°W
Chang’e 445.444°S 177.599°E
Chang’e 543.0576°N 51.9161°W
Odysseus80.13°S 1.44°E
SLIM13.31°S 25.2510°E
Recent Successful Lunar Landings

SLIM is Japan’s (JAXA) Smart Lander for Investigating Moon. I’ll get back to that.

Folks at NASA had the folks at Intuitive Machines shift IM-1’s landing site from the Oceanus Procellarum to the Malapert craters —

“…to learn more about terrain and communications near the lunar South Pole, which is expected to be one of the best locations for a sustained human presence on the Moon….”
Intuitive Machines Lunar Landing Site Moves to South Pole“, Commercial Lunar Payload Services, NASA Blogs (May 25, 2023)

The area includes Malapert Mons, Malapert Mountain, which should be a good spot for communications towers and solar energy collectors.4

Malapert Mons doesn’t seem to be an official name. The mountain may also be called Malapert Massif, but that’s a rabbit hole I’ll save for another time.

The Lunar south polar region is, apparently, a big deal because the odds are good that we’ll find water there. Frozen water, near the surface, in low and permanently shaded spots.

And that’s another topic.

SLIM: Another Good Lunar Landing

JAXA/TOMY/Sony Group Corporation/Doshisha University image: Image of the Lunar surface taken and transmitted by LEV-2(SORA-Q): Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) after a largely-successful landing. (January 20, 2024)
JAXA’s SLIM Lander, image taken by the LEV-2 (SORA-Q) rover. (January 20, 2024)

The LEV-2 Lunar rover didn’t walk away from January’s landing near Shioli crater, mainly because it’s got wheels: not legs.

But I’ll call JAXA’s SLIM landing a good one: upside down or not, their vehicle came down in one piece and deployed its rovers: within a hundred meters of the intended spot.

That’s impressive precision, and the lander ‘woke up’ the next Lunar day. There’s more to say, but it’s late Friday as I’m writing this: so I’ll put links in a footnote.5

NASA News Conference: In Case You’re Interested

That’s it for me this week, apart from the usual links:

1 First commercial flight to the Moon, it’s a pretty good start:

2 IM-1 on its side, but radioing back pictures and other data:

3 Odysseus on the Moon; yes, it’s a big deal:

4 Moon missions and miscellania:

5 Meanwhile, near Shioli in Cyrillus:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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