WASHINGTON — NASA and Intuitive Machines declared the IM-1 mission, in its final hours, an “unqualified success” despite a hard landing that left the spacecraft askew.

At a press conference Feb. 28, agency and company officials said they had received data from nearly all the payloads on the Nova-C lander, named Odysseus, that landed six days earlier near Malapert A crater in the south polar regions of the moon.

“We had some very high level mission objectives to touch down softly on the surface of the moon — softly and safely — and return scientific data to our customers,” said Steve Altemus, chief executive of Intuitive Machines. “Both of those objectives are met, so in our minds this is an unqualified success.”

NASA said it received data from all five of its active payloads on the IM-1 mission, some of which operated during the transit to the moon and some which provided data after landing. A sixth payload is a laser retroreflector that will be tested in the coming months.

“A soft touchdown on the moon in a great accomplishment,” said Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “This mission is a pathfinder. You can think of it as a flight test.”

At a separate briefing earlier in the day, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson backed that conclusion. “Odysseus is a success from NASA’s point of view,” he said.

That assessment came from a landing that was not necessarily that soft. The company previously said the laser rangefinders on the spacecraft were inoperable, and instead modified software to use lasers on a NASA payload, the Navigation Doppler Lidar. At a Feb. 23 briefing, company officials said they believed that effort was a success.

However, Tim Crain, Intuitive Machines’ chief technology officer, said that while engineers has successfully mapped the data from the NASA payload into their software, they had missed a data flag in the software to let it know the data were valid. “So those did not process after all,” he said. “Basically, we landed with our IMU [inertial measurement unit] and our optical navigation data flow algorithms.”

Without altimetry data from a laser rangefinder, the lander ended up descending just short of its landing site, in an area about 1.5 kilometers away with higher terrain. “We came in with more downward velocity and more horizontal velocity,” Altemus said, since the lander thought it was higher above the surface than it actually was.

“We hit harder and sort of skidded along the way,” he said. That impact ended up breaking at least one landing legs. “We sat there upright with the engine firing for a period of time, and then as it wound down, the vehicle just gently tipped over.” The landing took place on a 12-degree slope, causing the lander to rest at an angle of about 30 degrees off the surface as a helium tank or other component hit the surface.

If the laser rangefinders had been working, “we would have nailed the landing,” Crain said, based on the performance of other systems.

“This lander has exceeded all my expectations of how it going to perform,” Altemus said, noting that no major systems on the spacecraft broke; the landing legs, he said, were subjected to forces higher than they were rated for. “This was a very robust lander.”

Sue Lederer, project scientist for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which provided the company with a $118 million task order for the mission, said the NASA teams that flew payloads on IM-1 were going through the data still being returned but pleased with what they had received so far.

“Every payload has met some level of their objectives,” she said. That includes technology demonstration payloads like the lidar that have now “graduated” to operational payloads. “We’ve very excited to start poring through the data.”

One non-NASA payload that may have failed is EagleCam, a student-built camera designed to be ejected from the lander and take pictures of it. Changes in navigation software prevented EagleCam from being deployed during descent, as originally planned, but Altemus said EagleCam was finally deployed early Feb. 28, landing about four meters away.

“Either in the camera or in the wi-fi signal back to the lander, something might not be working correctly,” he said. The project team at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University was working on the issue, although before the launch that project team said EagleCam had a battery life of only about 30 minutes, limiting any ability to correct problems.

At the briefing, Intuitive Machines said the lander was in its final hours of operation as the sun moved out of view of the one illuminated solar panel. Altemus said he estimates a total operational time on the surface of 144 hours, or six days.

However, the company did not rule out bringing Odysseus, aka “Odie,” back to life after the two-week lunar night. Executives said they will try contacting the lander in two to three weeks in the event that the spacecraft’s batteries and electronics managed the survive conditions colder than they were designed for. That is not out of the realm of possibilities: Japan’s SLIM lander reestablished contact Feb. 25 after surviving the lunar night despite not being designed to do so.

“We’re in a position where, why not try?” Altemus said. “Let’s see what happens.”

“He’s a scrappy little dude,” Lederer said of the lander. “I have confidence in Odie at this point.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...