A Second Moon Lander Falls Over

Pamela L. Gay, Ph.D.
2 min readFeb 29, 2024

If you can’t make sense of the above image, it’s ok. What you’re seeing is the view from the Odysseus Lunar Lander. Taken with a fish-eye lens, this camera should be showing you a horizon-to-horizon (-to-horizon-to-horizon) view of the lunar surface. That kind of an image, however, would require the lander, built by Intuitive Machines, to still be standing up. Which it is not. The lander came in hot and fell over, making Odysseus the 2nd not-quite-upright mission to call home from an awkward position.

Odysseus’ colleague in lunar gymnastics is SLIM, a mission from JAXA (shown below). One of its engines lost thrust 50 meters from the lunar surface, and thrust from the other engines sent the lander sideways, causing it to ultimately end up upside down. (The image comes from a companion bot that was deployed as it came in for a landing).

SLIM lander by JAXA shown upside down on the Moon.

While SLIM has been able to call home, and even survived the Lunar night, it appears that Ody (as Odysseus is nicknamed), won’t be so lucky. Earlier today, in a press conference, representatives from Intuitive Machines said they estimate the mission only has hours to live. What makes this particularly frustrating is this was utterly avoidable. The mission wasn’t able to use its planned navigation system because of a hard-coded value that needed to be changed from a zero to a one prior to launch (or at least noticed a whole lot earlier). We’ve already seen people note that this mission is an exquisite example of process control failure and will live on as a case study for always following your checklists.

This is put most succinctly by spacecraft engineer Nakki. I’ll just let you read what xie said for yourself.

Folks, make your lists and then check them twice. Let Santa be your role model.

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Pamela L. Gay, Ph.D.

Astronomer, technologist, & creative focused on using new media to engage people in learning and doing science. Opinions & typos my own.