Japan announces successful SLIM lunar landing, fifth country to reach moon's surface

People raise their hands after a successful moon landing by the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, in a public viewing event in Sagamihara, south of Tokyo, Japan, on Jan. 20, 2024.

Kim Kyung-hoon | Reuters

Japan staked its claim as a national space power on Friday, as its SLIM spacecraft successfully landed on the lunar surface.

The country’s SLIM lander launched in September and touched down on the lunar surface around 10:20 a.m. ET, according to telemetry readings by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA.

JAXA’s president, Hiroshi Yamakawa, confirmed that the soft landing was successful, and the spacecraft was able to send signals after its descent. However, the solar panel capabilities seemed to be impaired upon landing, leaving the spacecraft reliant on battery power.

“I believe this was a greater step forward,” said Hitoshi Kuninaka, director general of JAXA.

The feat makes Japan the fifth country to land on the moon, following Russia — then the Soviet Union — the U.S., China and India. Last year, India joined the list of moon landings with its Chandrayaan-3 mission.

Japan’s SLIM, which stands for Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, is a cargo research mission. It carries a variety of scientific payloads, including an analysis camera and a pair of lunar rovers.

An artist’s rendition of the SLIM lunar lander on the moon’s surface.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Governments and private companies alike have made more than 50 attempts to land on the moon with mixed success since the first attempts in the early 1960s, a track record that has remained shaky even in the modern era. 

Last year, Japanese company ispace made its first attempt to land on the moon, but the spacecraft crashed in the final moments. Earlier this month, U.S. company Astrobotic got its first moon mission off the ground but encountered problems shortly after launch. The flight was cut short and failed to make a lunar landing attempt.

More attempts are on the way, with U.S. companies Intuitive Machines and Firefly preparing to fly moon landers this year, while China plans to launch another lunar lander in May. 

The SLIM lunar lander before launch.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

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