In a cosmic leap towards lunar exploration, Japan’s space agency set its sights high last week as they shot a rocket skyward, cradling a spacecraft on a mission to unlock the moon’s mysteries.
This lunar adventurer goes by the name “Smart Lander for Investigating the Moon,” or simply, SLIM. Its audacious objective? To grace the moon’s surface with its presence by early next year, etching Japan’s name in history as the fifth nation to pull off this celestial feat.
The elite club of lunar landings has thus far been an exclusive affair, with the United States, Russia, China, and India securing their spots. India’s lunar touchdown marked the most recent entry into this illustrious list, following Russia’s unceremonious moonbound misstep, which unfolded just days earlier, ending a 50-year lunar hiatus.
Back in April, a Japanese private space exploration enterprise made headlines with its lunar ambitions, only to be dashed as their moonward dreams crash-landed. Imagine the headlines had it succeeded! It would have marked the inaugural voyage of a private enterprise setting its sights on Earth’s celestial neighbor.
Fast forward to the latest spectacle – an H-IIA rocket roared to life on September 7 at the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan’s southwest, as the country’s JAXA space agency orchestrated the show. Hours post-launch, JAXA sent out reassuring signals, hinting that the SLIM spacecraft was merrily on its way, operating like a dream. As the curtain rises on this lunar drama, it’s anticipated that SLIM will kickstart its lunar landing performance by February, with Reuters gleefully reporting the impending show.
Japanese space magicians behind this endeavor have whispered secrets of SLIM’s plan to embrace the moon’s surface within a mere 100 meters of its designated spot. Their mission, one might say, is to prove that the future’s spacefaring juggernauts can pick and choose their landing spots, rather than merely arriving where destiny dictates.
Picture SLIM as a celestial detective with a nose for lunar intrigue. Set to land in the mysterious terrain known as Mare Nectaris, nestled on the moon’s southeastern edge, it’s a land of hardened lava plains, a dark enigma when viewed from our pale blue dot.
Once settled on lunar soil, SLIM dons the explorer’s hat and sets out on a treasure hunt amongst mineral-rich lunar rocks. Their quest? Unveil secrets buried deep in the moon’s ancient history. But make no mistake, this lunar detective doesn’t tote a lunar explorer companion; it’s a lone ranger in the cosmic Wild West.
In the spacecraft weight class, SLIM registers as a featherweight, tipping the scales at just over 700 kilograms. JAXA has future plans, though, to draft more lightweight companions into its cosmic entourage, making space exploration a thrifty affair and opening the door to countless missions yet unseen.
Fueling this lunar escapade is a chemical propulsion system, outfitted with minuscule electronic wizards that pilot the lander’s descent. The grand total for SLIM’s cosmic transformation rings in at a cool $102 million.
But wait, there’s more! The rocket that birthed SLIM also harbored another star in the cosmic theater, the X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) satellite. In a joint spectacle orchestrated by JAXA, NASA, and the European Space Agency, XRISM took its first steps into the great unknown, snapping the stellar equivalent of X-ray selfies and probing the scorching secrets of matter in the cosmos. This satellite aims to unlock the mysteries of intergalactic speeds and celestial chemistry, shedding light on the age-old tale of stars and galaxies.
JAXA isn’t stopping at the moon; they’ve got an interstellar tango lined up with the Indian Space Research Organization sometime post-2025. An epic voyage orchestrated by Japan’s H3 rocket will ferry India’s next lunar lander into the cosmic ballet.
And speaking of moonwalking, Japan has its sights set on sending an astronaut to grace the lunar stage in the late 2020s, courtesy of NASA’s Artemis program.
This cosmic overture was composed by none other than Bryan Lynn for VOA Learning English, drawing inspiration from reports by The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, JAXA, and NASA.