Japan successfully achieved a soft landing on the Moon with its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), making it the fifth nation to accomplish this feat. The landing took place at 12:20 am Japanese time (15:20 GMT Friday), and communication with the craft has been established. However, there is uncertainty about the craft’s long-term fate as its solar cells are not generating power.
JAXA official Hitoshi Kuninaka stated that without the functioning solar cells, the craft will only have power for a few hours. He suggested that it is possible for the solar cells to work again once the angle of the sun changes. Kuninaka mentioned that it is unlikely that the solar battery has failed and speculated that it may not be facing in the originally planned direction.
Despite the power issue, data is being sent back to Earth, and the focus is on using the remaining power to transmit all acquired data during the landing. This data will help determine if the craft, nicknamed the “Moon Sniper” for its precision, successfully landed within 100 meters of its intended landing spot.
JAXA confirmed that two probes detached successfully from the craft. One probe has a transmitter, while the other is designed to move around the lunar surface and send images back to Earth. The mini-rover, inspired by how a turtle moves on a beach and slightly bigger than a tennis ball, was co-developed by the company behind Transformer toys.
This mission is part of Japan’s efforts to explore Earth’s natural satellite, following two failed lunar missions and recent rocket failures. Success would restore Japan’s reputation in space and parallel India’s achievement in landing an uncrewed craft near the Moon’s south pole.
SLIM’s objective was to reach a crater where the Moon’s mantle, the deep inner layer beneath its crust, is believed to be accessible. The rocks exposed in this area are crucial for understanding the origins of the Moon and Earth.
Overall, Japan’s Moon landing marks a significant milestone in lunar exploration and contributes to the ongoing scientific efforts to unravel the mysteries of our celestial neighbor.