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23 May, 2024
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Japan lands 'moon sniper' on moon, faces urgent power challenge

Japan's lunar victory touched by solar power predicament


In a groundbreaking achievement, Japan joined the exclusive club of nations that have successfully executed a soft lunar landing.

According to a report on Times of Malta, the country's space agency, JAXA, proudly announced that its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), affectionately known as the "Moon Sniper" for its precision technology, made a nerve-wracking 20-minute descent before establishing communication upon touchdown.

However, the elation was tempered by a solar battery problem that threatened to cut short the mission. Hitoshi Kuninaka, a JAXA official, revealed that the craft had a limited power supply, offering only "several hours" for operations. The "Moon Sniper" relies on solar cells, and Kuninaka suggested that a change in the sun's angle might revive the batteries, dismissing the possibility of a complete failure.

"If the descent was not successful, it would have crashed at a very high speed. If that were the case, all functionality of the probe would be lost," Kuninaka emphasized, highlighting the stakes of the mission. Despite the power challenge, data continued to be transmitted to Earth, with mission control prioritizing the acquisition of valuable information.

SLIM was part of a new wave of lunar missions, coming five decades after the first human Moon landing. The quest for lunar exploration, however, is fraught with challenges, including crash landings, communication failures, and technical issues. Only the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and India had previously achieved lunar landings.

NASA Chief Bill Nelson extended congratulations to Japan, hailing it as the "historic fifth country to land successfully on the Moon." He underscored the importance of collaboration in the cosmos, expressing a shared value in partnerships.

JAXA's mission involves analyzing data acquired during the landing to determine the accuracy of landing within 100 meters of the intended spot. SLIM aimed for a lunar crater where the Moon's mantle is believed to be exposed on the surface, providing a unique opportunity for scientific exploration.

Two probes successfully detached during the mission—one equipped with a transmitter and another featuring a shape-shifting mini-rover, slightly larger than a tennis ball. This rover, developed by the creators of Transformer toys, is designed to roam the lunar surface and transmit images back to Earth.

Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, expressed optimism despite the solar panel problem. McDowell speculated on potential causes, including loose wires or an inverted lander orientation, but emphasized the mission's overall success.

While uncertainties remain regarding the solar panel glitch, the lunar mission marks a significant accomplishment for Japan and fuels global interest in lunar exploration. Challenges persist, as evidenced by recent setbacks in lunar missions, but the quest to unravel the mysteries of the Moon continues, with countries worldwide contributing to the collective exploration of the cosmic frontier.

[With information sourced from Times of Malta]

Cyprus  |  NASA  |  moon  |  science  |  JAPAN

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