Second US moon lander launches

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A private U.S. company, Intuitive Machines, has launched a lunar lander towards the Moon, marking the first attempt by a privately owned spacecraft to land on the Moon since the Apollo missions over fifty years ago. The launch took place early on Thursday, February 15, 2024, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, using a Falcon 9 rocket provided by SpaceX. This mission, named "IM-1," aims to achieve a touchdown near the Moon's south pole on February 22, following a day in lunar orbit. The south pole region is of particular interest due to its potentially treacherous terrain, which includes numerous craters and cliffs, as well as the possibility of containing frozen water. This area is also where NASA plans to land astronauts later in the decade. Intuitive Machines' lander, which has been named after Homer's hero in The Odyssey, carries a suite of experiments and payloads. NASA, the main sponsor of the mission, has included six navigation and technology experiments on the lander to facilitate future missions. Additionally, the mission carries payloads from other customers, including a project by sculptor Jeff Koons, who is sending moon figurines in a transparent cube, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's EagleCam, designed to capture images of the lander as it descends to the lunar surface. The mission represents a significant step towards jumpstarting a lunar economy and advancing lunar exploration ahead of planned astronaut missions. NASA has invested $118 million in this mission to deliver its latest set of experiments to the Moon. The successful launch and anticipated landing are seen as pivotal moments in the commercialization of lunar exploration and the broader participation of private entities in space exploration. This launch comes after a previous attempt by another private company, Astrobotic Technology, ended in failure when its lunar lander missed the Moon and was destroyed over the Pacific Ocean. The success of Intuitive Machines' mission would mark a historic achievement as the first private company to successfully land on the Moon, joining only a handful of nations that have accomplished this feat.
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