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24th February 2024 (9 Topics)

US achieves first moon landing in half century


The United States have achieved first moon landing in half century with private spacecraft.

Information Nugget

  • A spacecraft built and flown by Texas-based company Intuitive Machines landed near the moon's south pole.
  • It is the first U.S. touchdown on the lunar surface in more than half a century and the first ever achieved by the private sector.
    • The landing represented the first controlled descent to the lunar surface by a U.S. spacecraft since Apollo 17 in 1972, when NASA's last crewed moon mission landed there with astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt.
  • Spacecraft: six-legged robot lander, dubbed Odysseus.
  • Landing:As planned, the spacecraft was believed to have come to rest at a crater named Malapert A near the moon's south pole.
  • Instruments:The vehicle is carrying a suite of scientific instruments and technology demonstrations for NASA and several commercial customers designed to operate for seven days on solar energy before the sun sets over the polar landing site.
  • Objective:The NASA payload will focus on collecting data on space weather interactions with the moon's surface, radio astronomy and other aspects of the lunar environment for future landers and NASA's planned return of astronauts later in the decade.
  • The arrival of Odysseus also marks the first "soft landing" on the moon ever by a commercially manufactured and operated vehicle and the first under NASA's Artemis lunar program, as the U.S. races to return astronauts to Earth's natural satellite before China lands its own crewed spacecraft there.

To date, spacecraft from just four other countries have ever landed on the moon - the former Soviet Union, China, India and, mostly recently, just last month, Japan. The United States is the only one ever to have sent humans to the lunar surface.

What is soft landing?

  • A soft landing entails a successful landing by a spacecraft without sustaining any significant damage to itself or its payloads.
  • Whereas, in a hard landing, the probe suffers damage which may result in the failure of the mission.

The South Pole

  • The region has a difficult terrain, full of craters and deep trenches. It is also far from the equatorial region explored by previous lunar missions.
  • Some areas on the south pole are shrouded in darkness and have never received sunlight.
  • Temperatures are so cold there that they can plummet to as low as -230 degree Celsius. This rocky terrain, complete darkness and extremely cold weather make it more difficult for electronic instruments to function properly.
  • Situated on the edge of the Aitken basin, the largest impact basin on the Moon, the lunar south pole offers a unique opportunity to study materials from the Moon's deep crust and mantle. 
  • Before Russia, countries such as Japan, Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have tried and failed to land on the Moon’s south pole.

Why is landing on Moon challenging?

  • Less gravity than Earth:The Moon has much less gravity than the Earth. Its thin and tenuous atmosphere, along with lunar dust, also makes it tough for spacecraft to land.
  • Dust:The presence of dust, even in very small quantities, can have a significant effect on temperature control and optical performance of hardware on the lunar surface.
  • Deep space communication also poses a challenge as the “large distance from the Earth and the limited on-board and radio signals are weak with heavy background noises that need to be picked up by large antennas”.

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