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Japanese Moon Lander Dying After Touching Down on Lunar Surface

Touch Down

While Japan has technically become the fifth country in the world to land a spacecraft on the surface of the Moon, following the Soviet Union, the United States, China, and India, its lander didn't stick the landing and its power reserves are quickly running out.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) landed just after 10:21 am EST, seemingly surviving its "20 minutes of terror."

But it's a bittersweet moment: while it's survived its journey to the surface largely unscathed and is communicating with stations back on Earth and even receiving and responding to commands, JAXA officials confirmed at a press conference that its solar cells are not generating power.

It's still unclear exactly why, though it sounds like the lander likely touched down at an awkward angle that's keeping it from generating solar energy. Officials are still investigating the exact cause.

Officials also confirmed that to preserve battery life, the team shut has off the spacecraft's heating elements.

In short, Japan has made it to the Moon — but it just quite didn't stick the landing.

Try, Try Again

Japan has made three attempts to land on the Moon over the last few years using commercial landers, but none of them have made it to the surface in one piece.

It's been a tough stretch for Moon exploration efforts. The news comes after Pittsburgh-based space startup Astrobotic's Peregrine lander experienced an "anomaly" after launching earlier this month, "causing a critical loss of propellant." The spacecraft, which was meant to be the first US Moon lander to softly touch down on the lunar surface in over half a century, subsequently drifted towards the Earth's atmosphere and harmlessly burned up.

Despite several setbacks over the years, the globe's renewed interest in the Moon is really starting to pick up. NASA is hoping to return humans to the Moon within this decade as part of its Artemis program.

In August, India successfully landed its Vikram lander in the rough terrain of the Moon's south pole.

Despite not being able to keep its batteries charged, Japan's SLIM mission was far from a total write-off. The lander was carrying two much smaller robotic landers on board, including a transforming, ball-shaped robot that was inspired by a children's toy.

Fortunately, both successfully deployed while SLIM was making its approach today.

More on the lander: Japan Launches Mission to the Moon