Intuitive Machines' Odysseus lander is aiming for a crater near the moon's south pole. Here's why

the grey, dusty surface of the moon
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this view on March 3, 2023. Malapert Massif, a lunar mountain and Artemis 3 candidate landing region, is shown at lower left. The mountain's highest point looms more than 16,400 feet (5000 meters) above its base. (Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Intuitive Machines' Odysseus mission is targeting touch down near the moon's south pole this week for a historic lunar landing. 

The Nova-C lunar lander, named Odysseus, was built by the Houston-based company Intuitive Machines and launched to the moon atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Feb. 15 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission, known as IM-1, is scheduled to touchdown on the moon on Thursday (Feb. 22), at 5:49 p.m. EST (2249 GMT) in a region near the lunar south pole. If all goes according to plan, Intuitive Machines will be the first private company to reach the moon, and a successful descent will mark the first American soft lunar landing in over 50 years. 

Odysseus is carrying six NASA instruments and will attempt its historic landing near Malapert A, a small impact crater about 190 miles (300 kilometers) from the moon's south pole. So, why was this location selected for the IM-1 mission? 

Related: Intuitive Machines' private Odysseus probe snaps 1st moon photo, enters lunar orbit ahead of historic landing attempt

The Malapert A crater was not Odysseus' original destination. Initially, the spacecraft was slated to land in Oceanus Procellarum — the largest basaltic plain, also known as a lunar maria, located on the western edge of the visible side of the moon.

Instead, Malapert A is a relatively flat and safe region located within the heavily cratered southern highlands on the side of the moon visible from Earth, NASA officials said in a statement announcing the new landing site in May 2023. 

A false-color image of the moon's south pole region colored by elevation, with labels for 29 craters. Malapert, the region at which Intuitive Machines' Odysseus lander will attempt to land, can be seen at the bottom of the image. (Image credit: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studi)

"The decision to move from the original landing site in Oceanus Procellarum was based on a need to learn more about terrain and communications near the lunar south pole, which is expected to be one of the best locations for a sustained human presence on the moon," NASA officials said in the statement.

"Landing near Malapert A also will help mission planners understand how to communicate and send data back to Earth from a location that is low on the lunar horizon." 

Intuitive Machines' Odysseus moon lander beamed home this selfie on Feb. 16, 2024, a day after launching atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. (Image credit: Intuitive Machines via X)

Although the lunar south pole is a candidate location for NASA's Artemis 3 mission — expected to land astronauts on the moon as soon as 2026 — details of the area's environment remain a mystery to astronomers. -

Therefore, landing near the Malapert A crater offers Odysseus the opportunity to better manage risks for future Artemis landings and gather data about the lunar environment throughout the region.

The IM-1 mission — a private attempt under NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, or CLPS — aims to demonstrate the lunar spacecraft's landing capabilities and scope out the area for future missions. 

IM-1 is the second attempted landing of a private lander supporting the CLPS initiative. The first attempt ended prematurely when Astrobotic's Peregrine experienced a crippling a propulsion anomaly and later fell back to Earth, losing all of its payloads.

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13. 

  • Classical Motion
    For me, at this point I don't care about the weeds of the mission. I just want to see a nice proper landing. My fingers are crossed and I hope they got the software right. Good luck.
  • DrRaviSharma
    Why this is important mission is because it goes to Artemis 3 first human landing on moon after Apollo Program landings on which I worked.

    Only similar facility we had were lunar orbiters prior to Apollo and surveyor landers.
    (Dr. Ravi Sharma, Ph.D. USA)
    NASA Apollo Achievement Award
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    Former MTS NASA HQ MSEB Apollo
    Former Scientific Secretary ISRO HQ
    Ontolog Board of Trustees
    Particle and Space Physics
    Senior Enterprise Architect
    SAE Fuel Cell Tech Committee voting member for 20 years.