Private company shoots for first US moon landing in more than 50 years

MONITORING (SW) – A lunar lander has taken off for the moon in a bid to make the first United States landing since the Apollo missions more than half a century ago and the first achieved by a privately owned spacecraft.

A Falcon 9 rocket flown by Elon Musk’s SpaceX lifted off after 1am (06:00 GMT) on Thursday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, launching a moon lander made by Intuitive Machines towards its destination 370,000km (230,000 miles) away.

If all goes well, a touchdown attempt is expected on February 22 after a day in lunar orbit.

Intuitive Machines, a Houston-based aerospace company, launched mission “IM-1” a month after a rival lunar lander made by Astrobotic Technology crashed back to Earth, burning up over the Pacific 10 days after takeoff.

“There have been a lot of sleepless nights getting ready for this,” said Steve Altemus, co-founder and chief executive of Intuitive Machines.

The lander resembled a six-pointed star jewel – each point a leg – as it successfully separated from the upper stage and drifted off into the black void.

Intuitive Machines named its lander after Homer’s hero in The Odyssey.

“Godspeed, Odysseus. Now let’s go make history,” said Trent Martin, vice president of space systems at Intuitive Machines.

Only five countries – the US, Russia, China, India and Japan – have scored a lunar landing and no private business has yet done so.