Private lander touches down on the moon but is sending a weak signal

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A private U.S. lunar lander touched down on the moon Thursday, but contact with the craft was weak, company officials said.

There were no immediate updates on the lander’s condition from the company, Intuitive Machines.

Tension mounted in the company’s command center in Houston, as controllers awaited a signal from the spacecraft some 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) away, which arrived about 10 minutes later.

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“We’re evaluating how we can refine that signal,” said mission director Tim Crain. “But we can confirm, without a doubt, that our equipment is on the surface of the moon.”

The lander, Odysseus, descended from a moon-skimming orbit and guided itself toward the surface, searching for a relatively flat spot among all the cliffs and craters near the south pole.

The lander’s choreographed descent was the first for the U.S. since 1972, when Apollo 17’s Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt left the last bootprints in the desolate gray dust.

Intuitive Machines was striving to become the first private business to successfully pull off a lunar landing, a feat achieved by only five countries. Another company gave it a shot last month, but never made it to the moon, and the lander crashed back to Earth.

Odysseus, carrying NASA experiments, reached the moon Wednesday, six days after rocketing from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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