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MSU Space Science Center celebrates successful lunar landing

Samantha Morrill

Around a hundred people gathered at the Space Science Center’s Star Theater Thursday afternoon to watch scientists and engineers do something that’s never been done before. Executive Director Dr. Ben Malphrus said some tension - and hopes - were running high.

“It has gotten very interesting. It’s a little hectic but exciting. You know, we’re part of an organization that’s about to make history,” said Malphrus.

The MSU team partners with Intuitive Machines, a private company with the goal of expanding human access to the moon. One major first step to accomplish that is a successful soft landing. Malphrus said it’s not an easy thing to do.

“It is really a challenge to get to the moon. To get the energy that you need to get the spacecraft on a trajectory to earth-escape velocity, to navigate all the way to the moon because you’re all the way well above the GPS constellation. So, navigation is a problem. The space environment is extraordinarily harsh and then when you get there, it has to be automated,” said Malphrus.

A week after its launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the unmanned, liquid methane and liquid oxygen-fueled lunar lander was projected to touch down on the moon around 6:24 p.m. local time. The Star Theater at MSU went nearly silent as everyone waited to learn the fate of the NOVA-C lander named Odysseus.

After several tense minutes with no confirmed signal from Odysseus, contact with the lander was finally re-established.

Now, Malphrus said Thursday, February 22, 2024, will go down in the books as a flashpoint in history, the day the very first commercial lander successfully touched down on the moon.

“It’s sort of like the democratization of space, in a way. Because it’s really moving from government to private sector and if you have the resources and skills and talent, now you can be involved in space exploration,” said Malphrus.

The MSU team was already hard at work Thursday night. For the next two weeks, scientists across the globe will be collecting and analyzing data from the lunar lander. They include Marc Sanchez Net, who will be studying how electromagnetic energy reflected off the moon’s surface impacts communication links between the Earth and the moon.

“And ultimately that’s, I guess, fundamental for human exploration, right? Like, if you have astronauts there, you want to know that you can talk to them reliably,” said Sanchez Net.

There are 12 different payloads on Odysseus. Officials with Intuitive Machines said most all of them are focused on making return trips and exploration of the moon safer and more efficient.

On the heels of such a monumental triumph and with so many possibilities on the horizon, it was definitely a night to celebrate. Dr. Ben Malphrus said traditions for space missions should be native to the region.

“So, for our space missions, I get champagne and bourbon. Champagne if it’s successful, bourbon if it’s not,” said Malphrus. “So, tonight is champagne!”

In an update Friday morning, Intuitive Machines officials said Odysseus is alive and well with good telemetry and solar charging.