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Japan Explains How It Made an Upside-Down Moon Landing

Japan Explains How It Made an Upside-Down Moon Landing

Over the weekend, Japan celebrated a remarkable milestone as it became the fifth nation to land on the moon with its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM spacecraft. However, the achievement came with a touch of unpredictability as the spacecraft, designed for a sideways landing to navigate the lunar slopes, ended up in a rather unconventional position – with its engine nozzle pointing upward.

The SLIM mission encountered a glitch about 150 feet above the moon’s surface, where one of its two main engines reportedly failed, according to officials from JAXA, the Japanese space agency.

Despite the engine hiccup, the spacecraft managed to execute a gentle touch down at a modest vertical speed of around 3 miles per hour, thanks to the onboard computer compensating for the thrust loss. However, SLIM’s horizontal speed and landing orientation deviated from its planned trajectory.

This led to an amusing scenario where the spacecraft ended up resting on its head. While not a catastrophic fate like some recent lunar missions, SLIM faced challenges. Although its communication with Earth remained intact, the solar panels found themselves facing away from the lunar morning sun, leaving them unable to generate electricity. With the battery depleting rapidly, mission controllers decided to shut down the spacecraft less than three hours after landing.

Despite the unexpected turn of events, the primary mission goal was met – achieving a soft landing within 100 meters of the targeted site in the moon’s challenging terrain, showcasing precision rarely seen in lunar landings. Hitoshi Kuninaka, director general of JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, expressed satisfaction, stating, “We confirmed that the landing position was 55 meters away from the initial target. So we concluded that we achieved the 100-meter-accuracy pinpoint landing.”

During its brief operational period, the lander’s instrument captured low-resolution, black-and-white images of the lunar landscape. Adding a touch of humor, the SLIM team playfully assigned nicknames of dog breeds to rocks that caught their attention.

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