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JAXA Gives Itself 60 Out of 100 for Lunar Landing

Despite the harsh self-evaluation, JAXA managed to land its spacecraft on the moon's surface within 100 meters of its target area.



Artist's rendering of exploration lander SLIM's lunar landing. (Provided by JAXA)

Scoring 60 out of 100 during the Japanese exam season might make a hard-working student turn to prayer in desperation. However, in the realm of space exploration, achieving 60 out of 100 is a noteworthy accomplishment. That is the score the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) gave itself after its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) touched down on the lunar surface on January 20, at 0:20 am (JST).

The reason JAXA gave itself such a harsh assessment despite the successful descent is that the solar panels on the spacecraft are failing to generate power. This could potentially restrict SLIM's movements. Nevertheless, the mission marks Japan's first lunar landing, etching a new chapter in the history of space technology development.

Artist's rendering of SLIM on the moon's surface. (Provided by JAXA)

Mission Highlights

Japan now stands as the fifth nation to achieve this feat, following the Soviet Union, the United States, China, and India. A science correspondent notes that lunar landings pose greater challenges compared to asteroid landings due to the moon's higher gravity. JAXA took the challenge further by aiming for a pinpoint landing, maintaining a margin of error within 100 meters (328 feet) from the target zone.

The key to this precision lies in "vision-based navigation" technology, where a camera captures images of the lunar surface during descent. This enables the spacecraft to determine its position with high accuracy. 

An additional highlight of the mission was the collaboration between companies from different industries. On board SLIM was SORA-Q, an ultra-compact, shape-shifting robot. Developed by toy manufacturer Takara Tomy and others, the spherical robot can take photos of the lunar surface while moving on two wheels that open out from the sides. According to the developers, the inspiration for SORA-Q's movements came from frogs and sea turtles. 

SORA-Q before and after changing shape. (Provided by JAXA, Takara Tomy, Sony Group Corporation, Doshisha University)

Inspiring Generations

Bold ventures into uncharted territories contribute to the advancement of science. The mission echoes the spirit of the asteroid probe Hayabusa, which overcame numerous challenges to retrieve samples from an asteroid. It generated considerable interest and enthusiasm in scientific pursuits in Japan.

Amid growing concerns about a waning interest in science and a shortage of talent in STEM fields, SLIM's lunar landing is likely to spark a new interest in science among the younger generation.


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun


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