Emerging Technologies

First US moon landing in 50 years, and other technology news you need to know

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Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus lunar lander photographs the moon as it prepares for landing.

On Feb. 22, 2024, Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus lunar lander captures a wide field of view image of Schomberger crater on the Moon approximately 125 miles (200 km) uprange from the intended landing site, at approximately 6 miles (10 km) altitude. Image: Intuitive Machines

Sebastian Buckup
Head of Network and Partnerships; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
  • This monthly round-up brings you the latest stories from the world of technology.
  • Top tech stories: First US spacecraft for 50 years lands on moon, while Japanese moon lander survives freezing night; UK considers changes to drone flying laws.

1. A US spacecraft lands on the moon for the first time in half a century

The Odysseus Moon lander completed a soft lunar touchdown on 22 February, becoming the first privately built spacecraft to land on the moon and the first US one to do so in 50 years.

However, Stephen Altemus, CEO of Intuitive Machines, the Texas-based company that made the robot, told reporters in a briefing it tipped over after landing, possibly because one of its six landing feet got caught during the final descent.

It's believed to be lying on its side, propped up on a rock.


The Nova-C lander was sent to the moon on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on 15 February and touched down a week later at the Malapert A crater, about 300km from the moon's south pole.

Despite tipping over, Intuitive Machines said Odysseus was "alive and well" after the "spicy seven-day mission" and engineers were sending commands to the vehicle. On 26 February, however, the company said it would be cutting the mission short after flight control engineers said they expect to lose contact with the lander.

NASA said the mission was designed to study "plume-surface interactions, space weather/lunar surface interactions, radio astronomy, precision landing technologies, and a communication and navigation node for future autonomous navigation technologies."

Successful moon lander and impactor missions by country
Odysseus adds to the US' total of moon landings. Image: Statista

Meanwhile, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, which touched down on 19 January, has re-established communication with Earth, after surviving a freezing lunar night.

The spacecraft made a historic "pinpoint" touchdown – landing within 55m of its target, south of the moon's equator, but then lost power because it had also tipped over and its solar panels were facing the wrong way.

A change in the direction of sunlight allowed the lander's solar panels to regain power on 29 January – and now JAXA says it has survived a lunar night, which it was not designed to do.

The JAXA mission saw Japan become only the fifth country to land a spacecraft on the moon.

2. UK considers drone-flying rule changes

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is considering changes to drone-flying rules that would allow the delivery of critical medical supplies. The plans would make it easier for drones to be flown out of sight by pilots and form part of a wider scheme to better integrate the technology into UK airspace.

"Inspections of railways, powerlines, and roads as well as critical medical deliveries could be unlocked," said the CAA.

Current rules restrict where drones can fly if their pilot is unable to see them – to avoid mid-air collisions – but the proposal would allow out-of-sight drones to fly at low altitudes where other aircraft would not be expected to operate. This could include flying close to buildings or powerlines.

A graphic showing drone delivery use cases.
Drones piloted out of sight could provide faster delivery of medical supplies. Image: World Economic Forum

What is the World Economic Forum doing about drones?

3. In brief: Other tech stories to know

A tiny robot is set to simulate remote-controlled surgery on board the International Space Station. MIRA – which stands for miniaturized in vivo robotic assistant – will practice operating in zero gravity over the coming weeks, controlled by a surgeon in Nebraska, USA.

In other space news, Japanese scientists have built the world’s first wooden satellite and hope to launch it into space this summer. The LignoSat probe has been made to test if biodegradable materials could potentially be used in place of metals in space.

Meanwhile, Uber Eats customers in Tokyo Japan will soon have their food delivered by a self-driving robot, says TechCrunch. The “sidewalk robot”, known as Model C, travels around three miles per hour and can navigate its surroundings using onboard cameras and sensors.

Mobile phones are to be banned in UK schools, the government has announced. Most schools already have bans in place, but the guidance issued in February for headteachers "will ensure there is a consistent approach in all schools".

In the US, Waymo's plans to expand its robotaxi services to parts of Los Angeles and San Francisco's peninsula have been put on hold, amid safety concerns around autonomous vehicles.

Older people enjoy virtual reality (VR), a new study from Stanford University has found. Designed to see if VR can be beneficial to emotional and cognitive wellbeing, the study found that almost 8 in 10 of the 245 participants (aged 65-103 years old) reported having a more positive attitude after using VR.

4. More on technology on Agenda

Six technologies are critical for climate adaptation, according to the Forum’s Innovation and Adaptation in the Climate Crisis report. These are artificial intelligence, drones, Earth observation, advanced computing, the Internet of Things, and virtual and augmented reality. For example, early warning systems powered by Earth observation and drones can help save lives in climate disasters.

In Sweden, a start-up is exploring ways to make steel production more sustainable. It is currently a huge source of emissions, but H2 Green Steel hopes to change that. The company is building a large-scale plant that will use renewable energy to produce 5 million tonnes of green steel a year by the end of the decade.

And a new record has been set for nuclear fusion power generation. In its final experiment since launching in 1997, the UK’s JET fusion laboratory in Oxford produced 69 megajoules of energy over five seconds – enough to heat up to five hot baths.

1. A US spacecraft lands on the moon for the first time in half a century2. UK considers drone-flying rule changes3. In brief: Other tech stories to know4. More on technology on Agenda

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