It's the first step in establishing a permanent base on the moon.

It's the next step in exploration of the solar system.

The Odysseus moon lander is on track to land on the moon Thursday at 4:49 p.m. CT.  Launched on February 15 from Florida's Kennedy Space Center, a Space X Falcon rocket carried the unmanned moon lander.  It is a precursor to planned manned landers that will establish a base on the moon for launches into the solar system.

A primary experiment aboard is high-tech clothing being tested for humans to live and work on the moon. The lunarized personal gear was developed by Haskell "Hack" Beckham, a graduate of Sylacauga High School and Auburn University.

The Odysseus moon lander, built by Houston company Intuitive Machines, completed two engine burns in deep space on February 16 and February 18 and is on course through space toward a lunar landing.   All systems and science are "go" as it makes its way towards the moon.

Odysseus will be the first private moon lander to safely reach the moon's surface.  It also would be the first U.S. moon lander since the Apollo manned mission of December 1972.

The intended landing site is purposeful.  The crater, roughly 190 miles from the moon's south pole, is where NASA plans to transport astronauts in 2026 in their Artemis program of lunar exploration.  They will stay.     

Two private U.S. companies are collaborating to make it possible for humans to live and work on the moon – Intuitive Machines and Columbia Sportswear.  

Official explanation from the two companies is as follows:

In December 1972, Apollo 17 astronauts took humankind’s last steps on the Moon. In February 2024, the return journey continues.

Intuitive Machines will send the unmanned Nova-C lunar lander to the surface of the Moon for the first visit of a U.S. spacecraft in more than 50 years, with Columbia’s Omni-Heat™ Infinity technology helping protect it from extreme temperatures in space.

As part of NASA’s Artemis Program lunar exploration efforts, the IM-1 mission will help to lay the foundation for a sustainable human presence on the Moon. More broadly, it is an ambitious scientific quest fueled by a desire to fully understand our solar system and gain knowledge to help progress humanity.

For Columbia, it is an unparalleled opportunity for exploration and discovery, paving the way for advancements in technologies and materials innovations.

Why?  Why do we need a human presence, an American presence, on the moon? It's the development of a launch site to explore the rest of our solar system.

The purpose of the mission is to establish a base on the moon that can be used as a much-improved launch site for exploration of the solar system: Mars, Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune, asteroid belts.

Sylacauga native Beckham, the vice president of Innovation for Columbia Sportswear, added: "We have tested our products on some of the harshest environments on Earth. But going to the Moon is new for us. Testing in that harsh an environment, we are gaining new insights that will also make our customers more comfortable here on Earth."

Tim Crain, CTO of Intuitive Machines, explained the benefits of establishing space launch capabilities on the Moon:

A lot of people ask, ‘Why the Moon?’  We are going to the Moon because it is the first step in what’s next.”

“The Moon has one-sixth of the Earth’s gravity. So, if you intend exploring the entire solar system, it’s far better to launch those exploratory rockets from the surface of the Moon rather than from the surface of the Earth.”

What’s the commercial motivation for a private company to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to fund a Moon program?  Beckham explained:

Originally inspired by a NASA blanket, our Omni-Heat Infinity technology is heading to space to help protect the Intuitive Machines Nova-C lunar lander on a pioneering mission to the Moon. It’s the same tech we use to keep you warm here on Earth. From your jacket to the Moon. To make our customers more comfortable here on Earth.  It’s where we can use new technologies in an incredibly extreme environment.”

Beckham is a 1982 graduate of Sylacauga High School. He now lives in Portland, Oregon.

One small step for a man from Alabama, a giant leap for mankind.

Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at

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