It’s been over 50 years since a U.S. spacecraft landed on the surface of the moon, but that long absence was broken Thursday as Intuitive Machine’s Odysseus lander touched down on the lunar surface at 4:23 p.m. MST.

While mission officials confirmed they’d received a signal indicating the 14-foot tall lander had reached the surface, communications issues have kept flight monitors from establishing the condition of the craft or if it landed as hoped, upright on its six-legged platform.

Odysseus is the first domestic spacecraft to return to the lunar surface since NASA’s Apollo 17 mission in 1972, and just became the first privately developed lander to land on the moon.

Intuitive Machines officials announced a “successful landing” about 10 minutes after touchdown but said it was continuing to work to establish a communications link that could provide more information on the condition of the craft and the 12 science experiments it carried as payloads.

When did Odysseus launch?

Odysseus launched on Feb. 15 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, traveling 620,000 miles to the moon in six days before it entered lunar orbit on Wednesday. Intuitive Machines was aiming for a soft landing of its craft at the edge of the Malapert A crater, near the moon’s south pole. The south pole is of particular interest to NASA as an area that has been identified as the most likely to hold frozen reserves of water, an essential element and potential source from which oxygen and hydrogen could be extracted for future missions.

The spacecraft is carrying a dozen different payloads, half of which are for NASA, which subsidized the mission with $118 million from a program aiming to foster private sector spacecraft and space-related development.

On Wednesday afternoon, Intuitive Machines reported its lander was in “excellent health” and orbiting approximately 60 miles above the lunar surface. An update on Thursday morning noted orbital adjustments ahead of the landing had been successful and the craft was on track for a lunar touchdown at 3:24 p.m. MST.

What happened to the Peregrine lander?

Last month, another privately developed lunar lander, Astrobotic Technology’s Peregrine lander, also supported under NASA’s commercial payload program, saw a successful launch aboard the United Launch Alliance’s brand new Vulcan rocket, but ran into trouble shortly after separation. That mission, which also carried a variety of experiments and commercial payloads, failed after a fuel leak rendered the craft unable to complete its journey.

Besides Astrobotic’s attempt with Peregrine, two other private moon landing tries, one each by companies from Israel and Japan, have met with failure, a factor not lost on Intuitive Machines’ co-founder and CEO Steve Altemus.

“We are keenly aware of the immense challenges that lie ahead,” Altemus said in a press statement after Odysseus’ launch earlier this month. “However, it is precisely in facing these challenges head-on that we recognize the magnitude of the opportunity before us: to softly return the United States to the surface of the moon for the first time in 52 years.”

NASA says commercial deliveries by companies participating in the Commercial Payload Services program, which has $2.6 billion in funding through 2028, will perform science experiments, test technologies and demonstrate capabilities to help the U.S. space agency explore the moon as it prepares for human missions planned as part of its multiphase Artemis program.

When will astronauts return to the moon?

In a move foreshadowed by federal auditors’ findings late last year, NASA announced last month it was pushing out next steps in its multiphase Artemis moonshot program with two crewed mission launch dates, one aiming to orbit the moon and the other hoping to put astronauts on the lunar surface, each bumped out by one year.

NASA officials said further work to ensure mission safety is driving the rescheduling, as well as delays in third-party programs that are developing new spacesuits, orbital refueling systems and lunar landing spacecraft.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced the Artemis II mission, slated to carry astronauts on a journey that will include orbiting the moon, is now scheduled for launch in September 2025. The Artemis III mission, which will return astronauts to the surface of the moon for the first time in over 50 years, now has a September 2026 target date.

Nelson noted the success of the Artemis I mission in late 2022 that included the new, massive Space Launch System rocket and a 25-day journey for the unmanned Orion crew capsule. It splashed down in the Pacific on Dec. 14 that year after traveling nearly 1.4 million miles.

Artemis I was just the first step in a program aiming to not just put astronauts back on the moon, but to establish a base station there and develop systems to use the earth’s sole satellite as a launch site for, ultimately, sending human explorers to Mars.

This story will be updated as new information becomes available.