Japan's Moon Lander Defies All Odds

SLIM, thought to die in darkness, has survived 3 cold lunar nights so far
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 3, 2024 10:40 AM CDT
It's an 'Astonishing Feat' for Japan's Moon Lander
This image shows an image taken by a Lunar Excursion Vehicle 2 of a robotic moon rover called Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM, on the moon.   (JAXA/Takara Tomy/Sony Group Corporation/Doshisha University via AP, File)

Nearly four months after touching down on the moon, Japan's lunar lander is still going strong—something its creators did not at all expect. The lander wasn't designed to endure the frigid temperatures, as low as -208 degrees Fahrenheit, that come with a lunar night, a period of darkness that can last for weeks. It's now survived three—"an astonishing feat" as the cold of night can destroy batteries and electronics, per New Scientist. The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) doesn't have heaters or special insulation, so its first lunar night, coming less than two weeks after its Jan. 19 landing, was supposed to mark the end of its mission.

But as the sun rose on SLIM near the Shioli Crater on Feb. 25, its systems turned on. It continued its mission, gathering data and snapping photos of its surroundings, until the next lunar night, when it again entered hibernation. Around this time, the US lander Odysseus shut down, too. It never awoke when the sun rose again over the lunar south pole in late March, per Live Science. But SLIM, at the lunar equator, did. And it rewoke again on April 23 following a third period of cold darkness. Members of the mission team have alluded to its surprise "resurrection" in a song detailing its journey, CNN reports.

According to New Scientist, the lander got to work again "gathering data that will not only help us understand the moon, but also how to build a spacecraft that can survive lunar night." It went back into hibernation for its fourth lunar night on April 29, per CNN. "We plan to attempt to resume operation again in mid to late May, when SLIM's solar cells start generating electricity," the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said in a statement. "We appreciate your continued support." (More moon lander stories.)

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