Japan’s Moon lander, known as the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), has captured its first images of the lunar surface. The photographs reveal a desolate landscape of gray rubble, showcasing incredible detail. However, this solitary view is marred by the unfortunate circumstance that the lander finds itself in – upside down and currently unable to operate. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) had to power off the uncrewed lander, and the question remains whether it can be switched back on.
The compiled image, composed of 257 monochrome, low-resolution photographs taken by the on-board Multi-Band Camera (MBC), offers an incomplete glimpse of the Moon. The camera’s scanning function ceased abruptly, resulting in an unfinished picture. Despite this setback, Japan’s achievement of landing on the Moon, making it the fifth country to do so after the US, Russia, China, and India, still marks a significant moment in history. SLIM, also known as the “Moon Sniper,” boasted precision landing capabilities which, unfortunately, failed when it landed on its nose. As a consequence, the lander’s solar panels were unable to generate power.
A mere three hours after landing, JAXA made the difficult decision to power off the lander to conserve energy. The hope is that if SLIM’s solar panels are struck by sunlight in the future, the lander will be ready to resume operations. Within this brief period, SLIM managed to collect valuable information. Currently, JAXA has zoomed in on the images and begun identifying rocks of interest, endearingly giving them dog-themed nicknames such as SHIBAINU and Toy Poodle. Additionally, the MBC snapped a photo of SLIM itself, stranded in its nose-down position.
On a more positive note, SLIM’s two payloads, LEV-1 and LEV-2, successfully deployed and roamed the Moon before SLIM’s shutdown. Of particular interest is LEV-2, a shape-shifting rover partially developed by the toy company responsible for Transformers. Project manager Shinichiro Sakai exuded pride at the achievement, expressing astonishment upon witnessing the snapshot from the Moon. He remarked, “Something we designed traveled all the way to the Moon and took that snapshot. I almost fell down when I saw it,” adding that this success signifies the agency’s ability to land precisely where desired and marks the dawn of a new era.
Should the Sun shine upon SLIM’s solar panels once again, the mission will reactivate. Scientists anticipate a series of spectroscopic photos that will aid in identifying the chemical composition of the lunar surface. This potential revival brings both excitement and uncertainty, as lander operations hang in the balance.
Japan’s SLIM lander presents a complex narrative of accomplishment and disappointment. While the first images of the lunar surface are captivating, the lander’s current state of being upside down and unable to function casts a sense of uncertainty on the mission’s future. Nonetheless, the successful deployment of the rovers LEV-1 and LEV-2 demonstrates the nation’s capacity for autonomous exploration, opening doors to new possibilities. The hope remains that SLIM will see a resurgence, offering further insight into the enigmatic Moon and propelling scientific understanding to new heights.