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Private US moon lander takes off to the moon

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off on the IM-1 mission with the Nova-C moon lander from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. — Reuters
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off on the IM-1 mission with the Nova-C moon lander from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. — Reuters
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FLORIDA: A moon lander built by Houston-based aerospace company Intuitive Machines was launched from Florida early on Thursday on a mission to conduct the first US lunar touchdown in more than a half century and the first by a privately owned spacecraft.


The company's Nova-C lander, dubbed Odysseus, lifted off shortly after 1 am atop a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket flown by Elon Musk' SpaceX from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.


A live NASA-SpaceX online video feed showed the two-stage, 25-story rocket roaring off the launch pad and streaking into the dark sky over Florida's Atlantic coast, trailed by a fiery yellowish plume of exhaust.


About 48 minutes after launch, the six-legged lander was shown being released from Falcon 9's upper stage about 139 miles above Earth and drifting away on its voyage to the moon.


"IM-1 Odysseus lunar lander separation confirmed," a mission controller was heard saying.


Moments later, mission operations in Houston received its first radio signals from Odysseus as the lander began an automated process of powering on its systems and orienting itself in space.


Although considered an Intuitive Machines mission, the IM-1 flight is carrying six NASA payloads of instruments designed to gather data about the lunar environment ahead of NASA's planned return of astronauts to the moon later this decade.


Thursday's launch came a month after the lunar lander of another private firm, Astrobotic Technology, suffered a propulsion system leak on its way to the moon shortly after being placed in orbit on January 8 by a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan rocket making its debut flight.


The failure of Astrobotic's Peregrine lander, which was also flying NASA payloads to the moon, marked the third time a private company had been unable to achieve a "soft landing" on the lunar surface, following ill-fated efforts by companies from Israel and Japan.


Those mishaps illustrated the risks NASA faces in leaning more heavily on the commercial sector than it had in the past to realise its spaceflight goals.


Plans call for Odysseus to reach its destination after a week-long flight, with a February 22 landing at crater Malapert A near the moon's south pole.


If successful, the flight would represent the first controlled descent to the lunar surface by a US spacecraft since the final Apollo crewed moon mission in 1972. — Reuters


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