TOKYO – What could be the last photo from Japan’s historic Moon lander mission has been released, with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) saying it does not know if it’ll be able to revive the spacecraft after the lunar night.
The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon mission, or SLIM for short, landed upside down on the Moon on Jan. 19. Due to its orientation, its solar cells are not pointed directly at the Sun.
This has caused operators to have limited use of the lander, and it remains unclear if the spacecraft will survive temperatures of more than -200 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of more than two weeks.
Unlike Earth, the Moon takes a whole month to complete one rotation, with one side of the natural satellite experiencing lunar day while the other experiences lunar night.
Despite the mission’s limitations, JAXA has labeled the endeavor a success and said it had dozens of images to analyze from a region of the Moon that is not well understood.
"Based on the large amount of data we have obtained, we are proceeding with analyzes to identify rocks and estimate the chemical composition of minerals, which will help solve the mystery of the origin of the Moon. We will announce scientific results as soon as they are obtained," JAXA said in a statement.
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Japan is the fifth country to land on the lunar surface, a task that has been difficult and marked by epic failures by even the most experienced space programs.
In January, U.S.-based Astrobotics tried to land its Peregrine craft on the Moon. The mission ended in failure, with the private lunar lander burning up in Earth’s atmosphere.
A planned crewed landing by NASA known as the Artemis mission was set to land on the lunar surface in 2025, but that was recently pushed back to at least 2026 or 2027 because of various developmental issues.
In 2023, a Japanese company known as ispace, inc., failed its lunar landing after an apparent miscalculation.
The next rover launch attempt from the U.S. could occur as early as November when NASA launches its Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The rover is set to investigate the Moon’s South Pole during a 100-day mission.
The space agency said data will be critical in determining the distribution of water on the lunar body and help determine the resources available for future human space exploration.
The U.S. remains the only country that has landed humans on the Moon.