Japan Announces Successful Moon Landing

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Japan joins an elite club of nations that includes the United States of America, the Soviet Union, Communist China, and India. 

Japan became the fifth nation to successfully land a spacecraft on the Moon.

The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) touched down around 12:20 a.m. Tokyo time on Jan. 20 (1520 GMT Jan. 19), according to the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Several hours passed before mission control would get confirmation that the landing was a success, although it was not a complete success.

“The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) confirms that the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) successfully landed on the moon surface on January 20, 2024, at 0:20 am (JST). Communication with spacecraft has been established after the landing,” JAXA said in an official statement. “However, the solar cells are currently not generating power, and priority is given to data acquisition from the SLIM on the moon. Detailed analysis of the acquired data will be conducted in the future, and we will continue to share any updates on the situation.”

Hitoshi Kuninaka, head of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, a unit of Japan’s space agency, said his team suspects the rovers onboard the lander were deployed, but without functioning solar panels, the batteries only provide a few hours of operating life.

Still, he sees the soft landing as having achieved “minimum” success.

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Japan now joins an elite club of nations that includes the United States of America, the Soviet Union, Communist China, and India.

Launched in September 2023—less than six months after the crash-landing of a private Japanese moon lander, reportedly due to software issues—SLIM left Earth aboard an HII-A rocket from Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan with the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) satellite and was not expected to reach lunar orbit for several months.

JAXA was shooting for a “pinpoint” landing near the Shioli crater that would allow it to use the probe to learn more about the Moon’s origin, specifically testing the giant-impact theory that it was created when the Earth collided with another small planet, roughly the size of Mars.

But the main objective of the mission was to test JAXA’s new landing technology, proving it can put spacecraft “where we want to, rather than where it is easy to land.” While most landings have aimed for landing zones six miles (10 km) in size, SLIM’s landing zone was just 330 feet (100 m) wide. Officials still have not been able to confirm if a “pinpoint” landing was achieved.

The mission comes days after the private American company, Astrobotic Technology, announced a catastrophic fuel leak shortly after the launch of its unmanned lunar lander, Peregrine, aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

JAXA has partnered with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on the Artemis project to establish a permanent presence on the Moon.

“The main goal of the ultimate program is to establish a human presence,” said Sasaki Hiroshi, JAXA Vice President and Director General for Human Spaceflight Technology Directorate, during a pre-landing live stream, according to a translator. “While doing so, Japan will be contributing more on the robotics. And the first one is the crewed mission that will be setting foot on the lunar surface. And also another one we’ll be sending pressurized rover for driving on the lunar surface.”

The Associated Press, and Stephen Katte contributed to this report.

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