When the Odysseus lander left Earth, it carried, among other things, eight science instruments, a copy of the entire English Wikipedia, some magic tricks — and a switch set to the wrong position.
That switch was a safety shutoff for the laser system meant to guide the spacecraft to a safe landing spot. With no way to turn the instrument back on, the mission’s future was in jeopardy. But Odysseus was built by private space company Intuitive Machines as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which means it carries several NASA instruments designed to help pave the way for future missions. And one of these, by complete chance, happened to be a LIDAR device that was a perfect substitute for the switched-off laser. Working under pressure and on the fly, the mission team adapted the lander’s software to make the switch.
On Feb. 22, 2024, Odysseus safely touched down on the Moon. It marks the first U.S. landing in over 50 years and the first ever by a private company. Only days later, Intuitive Machines realized: their last-minute patch didn’t work. Odysseus landed without either the LIDAR or laser system, making it safely to the Moon’s surface anyway. Though the lander seems to have landed on its side, it has transmitted data back to Earth.
Elsewhere on the Moon, JAXA’s SLIM mission defied the odds to survive a long, cold lunar night. On Mars, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter appears to have snapped one of its blades clean off, and new orbiter images trace the flow of ancient water.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect new information about the role of NASA's LIDAR instrument in Odysseus' landing.