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Today, the United States aims to take one small step back to the surface of the moon. If all goes well, a spindly robotic lander named Odysseus — designed and built by a private U.S. company — will touch down near the moon’s south pole at about 6:24 p.m. Eastern time. The probe, which is carrying six NASA payloads plus a few other odds and ends, would be the first U.S. vehicle to touch lunar soil since Apollo 17 landed in 1972. Live coverage of the landing will be broadcast on NASA TV starting at 5 p.m. The Houston-based company Intuitive Machines is overseeing the mission, which launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on February 15. Odysseus’ destination is a flat region near the Malapert A crater, about 300 kilometers from the moon’s south pole. The spot is near one of several potential landing sites for future NASA astronauts. The spacecraft, which stands about 4 meters tall and 1.5 meters wide, is hauling a half dozen NASA instruments designed to demonstrate equipment for future landings and better understand the environment near the south pole in service of planned astronaut missions. The payloads will test precision landing technologies, try out a new way of knowing how much lander fuel is left, investigate the radio environment near the moon’s surface, and plop a set of retroreflectors on the ground that will serve as a permanent location marker. Though NASA is the company’s main customer, the space agency’s instruments aren’t the only passengers. Payloads from several private companies and groups are along for the ride as well. They include a camera designed by students and faculty at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. The camera will be jettisoned from the lander about 30 meters above the surface to capture the first images of a lunar touchdown from outside the incoming spacecraft. And Odysseus is delivering the first art installation on the moon: A cube of 125 miniature sculptures that commemorate human curiosity. The venture is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, wherein the agency hires companies to scout the moon in support of the Artemis lunar program ( SN: 11/16/22 ). Under Artemis, NASA aims to reestablish a human presence on the moon, with the first crewed landing no earlier than late 2026. It’s been more than 50 years since astronaut Eugene Cernan left the last U.S. footprints on the moon. In recent years, a string of robotic landing attempts have been made by private companies and countries alike, though most failed ( SN: 8/23/23 ). A successful landing by Odysseus today will move the United States closer to its next giant leap in space exploration.