A 5th Country Has Landed on the Moon

Japan's 'Moon Sniper' is sending back data but solar cells aren't working, JAXA says
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 19, 2024 8:06 AM CST
Updated Jan 19, 2024 11:51 AM CST
Japan's 'Moon Sniper' Nears Its Target
Journalists watch a live stream at JAXA's Sagamihara Campus Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024.   (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

This story has been updated with new developments. Japan has become the fifth country to successfully land a spacecraft on the moon. The country's space agency, JAXA, says Smart Lander for Investigating Moon—SLIM—has landed on the moon and is sending back data, though its solar panel isn't working and it is currently running on battery power, which may only last a few hours. At a press conference, officials said they consider the landing a success because the spacecraft is sending back data, the New York Times reports. Officials said it will take time to determine whether the spacecraft, nicknamed the "Moon Sniper," achieved the pinpoint-accurate landing they hoped for.

SLIM began its descent around 10am Eastern, CNN reports. The landing was streamed live on YouTube, and project official Kenji Kushiki said the "start of the deceleration to the landing on the moon's surface is expected to be a breathless, numbing 20 minutes of terror." The spacecraft launched in September was nicknamed Moon Sniper because it aimed for a much smaller target site than other landings. Other probes have used landing zones 6 miles wide, but SLIM's target near a crater called Shioli was just 330 feet wide, the AP reports. JAXA says the main goal of the mission is to demonstrate a pinpoint landing, to bring in an era of landing "where we want to, rather than where it is easy to land."

"As we map the surface of celestial bodies in ever more detail, the need to land close to a very specific area has increased," JAXA says. The spacecraft carried two small rovers, the BBC reports. One is a hopping robot and the other—developed by companies including Tomy, which makes Transformers toys—is a ball that changes shape when it stops to take photos. After the landing, officials said both rovers had successfully been ejected. Before now, only the US, the Soviet Union, China, and India had successfully landed spacecraft on the moon, reports the Guardian. Another Japanese lander crashed last year. (More moon landings stories.)

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