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An Historic Delivery to the Moon’s South Pole on This Week @NASA – March 1, 2024
NASA Science Live: Our First Commercial Science Delivery to the Moon
For the first time in more than 50 years, NASA was able to collect data from new science instruments and technology demonstrations on the Moon. The data comes from the first successful landing of a delivery through NASA’s CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) initiative and Artemis campaign.
The six instruments ceased science and technology operations eight days after landing in the lunar South Pole region aboard Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus, meeting pre-launch projected mission operations. Known as IM-1, this was the first U.S. soft landing on the Moon in decades, touching down on Feb. 22, proving commercial vendors can deliver instruments designed to expand the scientific and technical knowledge on the Moon.
Aboard the lunar lander, NASA science instruments measured the radio noise generated by the Earth and Sun. Technology instruments, aided Intuitive Machines in navigating to the Moon and gathered distance and speed (velocity) of the lander as touched down on the lunar surface.
“This mission includes many firsts. This is the first time in over 50 years that an American organization has landed instruments on the surface of the Moon,” said Joel Kearns, deputy association administrator for exploration of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This mission also provides evidence of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services model, that NASA can purchase the service of sending instruments to the Moon and receiving their data back. Congratulations to the entire Intuitive Machines team and our NASA scientists and engineers for this next leap to advance exploration and our understanding of Earth’s nearest neighbor.”
During transit from Earth to the Moon, all powered NASA instruments received data and completed transit checkouts.
During descent, the Radio Frequency Mass Gauge and Navigation Doppler Lidar collected data during the lander’s powered descent and landing. After landing, NASA payload data was acquired consistent with the communications and other constraints resulting from the lander orientation. During surface operations, the Radio-wave Observations at the Lunar Surface of the Photoelectron Sheath and Lunar Node-1 were powered on, performed surface operations, and have received data. The Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies was powered on and captured images during transit and several days after landing but was not successfully commanded to capture images of the lander rocket plume interaction with the lunar surface during landing. The Laser Retroreflector Array is passive and initial estimates suggest it is accessible for laser ranging from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter to create a permanent location marker on the Moon. “The bottom line is every NASA instrument has met some level of their objectives, and we are very excited about that,” said Sue Lederer, project scientist for CLPS. “We all worked together and it’s the people who really made a difference and made sure we overcame challenges to this incredible success – and that is where we are at today, with successes for all of our instruments.”
NASA and Intuitive Machines co-hosted a news conference non Feb. 28 to provide a status update on the six NASA instruments that collected data on the IM-1 mission. Mission challenges and successes were discussed during the briefing, including more than approximately 500 megabytes of science, technology, and spacecraft data downloaded and ready for analysis by NASA and Intuitive Machines.
The first images from this historical mission are now available and showcase the orientation of the lander along with a view of the South Pole region on the Moon. Odysseus is gently leaning into the lunar surface, preserving the ability to return scientific data. After successful transmission of images to Earth, Intuitive Machines continues to gain additional insight into Odysseus’ position on the lunar surface. All data gathered from this mission will aid Intuitive Machines in their next two CLPS contracts that NASA has previously awarded.
For more information about the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, visit:
Odysseus’ landing captured a leg, as it performed its primary task, absorbing first contact with the lunar surface. With the lander’s liquid methane and liquid oxygen engine still throttling, it provided stability.Credit: Intuitive Machines Taken on Tuesday, Feb. 27, Odysseus captured an image using its narrow-field-of-view camera.Credit: Intuitive Machines Keep Exploring Discover More Topics From NASA
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Following a launch on Feb. 15, Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus lander touched down in the Moon’s south polar region on Feb. 22 and has since transmitted valuable scientific data back to Earth. Odysseus took six NASA payloads along for the ride and their data will prepare us for future human exploration of the Moon under Artemis.
This landing marked the United States’ first lunar landing since Apollo 17, as well as the first landing as part of our Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, which aims to expand the lunar economy to support future crewed Artemis missions.
Read the latest updates about Intuitive Machines’ first mission to the Moon.
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Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
When NASA sends astronauts to the South Pole region of the Moon for the first time with its Artemis campaign, they will capture photos with a handheld camera to help advance scientific research and discovery for the benefit of all. NASA and Nikon Inc. recently signed a Space Act Agreement that outlines how they will work together to develop a handheld camera that can operate in the harsh lunar environment for use beginning with Artemis III.
Photographing the lunar South Pole region requires a modern camera with specialized capabilities to manage the extreme lighting conditions and temperatures unique to the area. The agreement enables NASA to have a space-rated camera ready for use on the lunar surface without needing to develop one from scratch.
Prior to the agreement, NASA performed initial testing on a standard Nikon Z 9 camera to determine the specifications a camera would need to operate on the lunar surface. With the agreement in place, teams at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, along with Nikon, have started working to implement the necessary adjustments and develop the HULC (Handheld Universal Lunar Camera), the agency’s next-generation camera astronauts will use on the Moon.
NASA astronauts Zena Cardman and Drew Feustel practice using an early design of the Handheld Universal Lunar Camera during the Joint Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Test Team (JETT) Field Test 3 in Arizona. NASA / Bill Stafford The resulting design consists of a modified Nikon Z 9 camera and Nikkor lenses, NASA’s thermal blanket, which will protect the camera from dust and extreme temperatures, and a custom grip with modified buttons developed by NASA engineers for easier handling by suited crewmembers wearing thick gloves during a moonwalk. In addition, the camera will incorporate the latest imagery technology and will have modified electrical components to minimize issues caused by radiation, ensuring the camera operates as intended on the Moon.
The camera will be the first mirrorless handheld camera used on the Moon, designed for capturing imagery in low-light environments. Prior to Artemis missions, the camera will be used at the International Space Station to demonstrate its capabilities.
For over 50 years, NASA has used a variety of cameras in space, including the cameras crewmembers currently use at the International Space Station to take photos of science experiments, day-to-day operations, and during spacewalks while they orbit about 250 miles above Earth.
NASA astronaut Jessica Wittner uses an early design of the Artemis lunar camera to take photos during planetary geological field training in Lanzarote, Spain.European Space Agency / A. Romero During the Apollo program, crewmembers took over 18,000 photos using modified large-format, handheld cameras. However, those cameras didn’t have viewfinders, so astronauts were trained to aim the camera from chest-level where it attached to the front of the spacesuit. In addition, Apollo crewmembers had to use separate cameras for photos and video. The new lunar camera will have a viewfinder and video capabilities to capture both still imagery and video on a single device.
To ensure camera performance on the lunar surface, NASA has begun thermal, vacuum, and radiation testing on the lunar camera to see how it behaves in a space-like environment. Suited NASA crewmembers have used the camera to capture imagery of geology tasks during simulated moonwalks in Arizona, and an international crew of astronauts from NASA, ESA (European Space Agency), and JAXA (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) used it during geology training in Lanzarote, Spain.
NASA crewmembers will use the camera during the Joint Extravehicular Activity and Human Surface Mobility Test Team Field Test #5, an upcoming analog mission in Arizona where teams will conduct simulated moonwalks in the desert to practice lunar operations.
Through NASA’s Artemis campaign, the agency will land the first woman, the first person of color, and its first international partner astronaut on the surface of the Moon, paving the way for a long-term lunar presence and serving as a steppingstone to send the first astronauts to Mars.
For more information about Artemis, visit:
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