Japan’s lunar lander reawakens after a nerve-wracking 20 minutes of terror

Japan’s lunar lander has been revived, announced the space agency on Monday, allowing the spacecraft to proceed with its mission to explore the lunar surface despite encountering difficulties initially.

The unexpected news comes nine days after the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) made a landing at an awkward angle, leaving its solar panels facing the wrong direction.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) expressed their success in re-establishing communication with SLIM, stating on the social media platform X, “Last evening we succeeded in establishing communication with SLIM, and resumed operations!” They posted a blurry image of a lunar rock referred to as a “toy poodle.”

“We immediately started scientific observations with MBC, and have successfully obtained first light for 10-band observation,” they added, mentioning the lander’s multiband spectroscopic camera.

SLIM’s soft landing on January 20 marked Japan as the fifth nation to achieve this feat on the Moon, following the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and India. However, during its descent, labeled the “20 minutes of terror,” the craft experienced engine problems, resulting in a skewed angle. Images released by JAXA showed the solar panels facing west instead of upwards, raising concerns about their ability to receive sufficient sunlight.

Last week, JAXA announced that they had turned off the SLIM with 12 percent power remaining, hoping it would awaken this week. A JAXA spokesman explained on Monday that the SLIM operation resumed, “presumably because power generation resumed in its solar battery as it received sunlight.”

He emphasized the priority of observing and collecting information over adjusting SLIM’s position, as attempting adjustments could lead to a more precarious situation. He also noted that the daytime on the Moon, where SLIM is located, will last until around the end of January, transitioning to nighttime from around February.

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