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Landed... kind of

26 Feb 2024

The USA's first attempt to soft-land a craft on the moon after more than half a century has succeeded... well kind of.

Just like Japan's recent mission, the landing of Odysseus didn't exactly go to plan. However, NASA and the private company Intuitive Machines are calling the landing a success, despite the fact that it fell flat on its face.

Yes, while Japan's lander ended up on its lid the US attempt only half fell over so ended up on its side.

To be honest, I'm not surprised and I had voiced my concerns when I first saw the configuration of the craft.

Perhaps its dimensions were constrained by launch-vehicle limitations but I was immediately worried by the seemingly high centre of gravity that Odysseus obviously had, due to its height and the limited spacing of its landing feet.

Another constraining factor was apparently the need to get its antennas as high as possible above the lunar surface in order to get a better "line of sight" view of the earth. This is because, unlike those missions half a century ago, the latest soft landing targeted a spot close to the Moon's South Pole. As a result of this, the earth would appear very low on the craft's horizon so elevation was critical.

These recent failures (India, Japan and now the USA) serve to highlight just how amazing the lunar missions of the 1960s really were.

Although they had computers with a tiny fraction of the power found in even a modest contemporary smartwatch, the Luna and Surveyor craft of more than half a century ago made things look so simple by comparison.

The fact that only China seems to have been successful of late with its Chang'e 4 craft would suggest that a great deal more respect should be given to that country's capabilities in this domain.

Is the USA being a little optimistic with its plan to put humans back on the moon in just a few short year's time?

Might it be that by the time they actually get there, China will have already planted its flag?

One thing is for sure, this renewed space race is great for folk, like myself, who love watching the challenges being explored and overcome -- just as I did as a kid back in the 1960s. I found it quite nostalgic to be sitting around eagerly waiting for the first images from a lunar lander, some 60 years after I did so as a kid.

It's kind of a shame that in the 55 years since man first set foot on the moon, we haven't really done much more in the way of the manned exploration of space.

Sure, the robotic missions to Mars have been great stuff and we even got to see a helicopter fly in the thin Martion atmosphere but nothing compares to that first footstep on a celestial body that we were all in awe of back in 1969.

Fear not though, once Elon Musk gets his solar-powered electric hyperloop mission to Mars underway next year the excitement will return! (sigh).

In the meantime I would not be surprised if China pulled a rabbit out of the hat and beat the USA back to the moon. How would America respond to that, I wonder.

Carpe Diem folks!

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