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Japan has finally reached the moon, but officials say its lunar module is losing power

Japan’s lunar lander has reached on the surface of the moon, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said Friday, but an issue with its power supply has put the mission in jeopardy.

The unmanned module known as the “Moon Sniper” landed on the moon’s surface at approximately 10:20 a.m. ET Friday (or 12:20 a.m. Saturday Japan Standard Time), officials with Japan’s space agency said.

The spacecraft touched down near the small Shioli crater just south of the Sea of Tranquility, where NASA’s Apollo 11 made its historic moon landing in 1969. (Five other successful Apollo missions — and one famously failed mission — followed.)

During a livestream broadcast, officials with the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) mission initially said that they were working to determine the spacecraft’s condition and that its status was unknown. They confirmed the landing at a press conference later Friday but said that the lander's solar cell is not generating electricity and that the mission may end prematurely.

Journalists watch a livestream of the moon landing mission.
Journalists watch a livestream of the moon landing mission at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Sagamihara Campus near Tokyo. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

Researchers were hoping to study rocks around the landing site to gain insights into the moon’s origin.

“When meteorites and other objects strike the moon, they create craters as well as rocky debris that litters the surface,” CNN explained. “These rocks intrigue scientists because studying them is effectively like peering inside the moon itself. Minerals and other aspects of the rocks’ composition can potentially shed more light on how the moon formed.”

The race to return to the moon

The moon as seen from Catania, Italy.
The moon as seen from Catania, Italy, on Thursday. (Fabrizio Villa/Getty Images)

Since the Apollo missions, just four other countries have landed on the moon: the former Soviet Union (six times, first in 1970); China (three times, first in 2013); India, whose Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft touched down near the lunar south pole last August; and Japan with its landing Friday. None of those missions were manned.

There have been numerous other recent attempts by multiple space agencies at moon landing missions. And all have failed.

Last April, Japan’s Hakuto-R lunar lander crashed onto the moon during a landing attempt.

A scale model of the SLIM spacecraft.
A scale model of the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) spacecraft is displayed at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Sagamihara Campus near Tokyo Friday. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

In August, Russia’s Luna-25 also crashed onto the moon during the country’s first attempt to return to the moon since the Soviet Union’s fall.

Last week, Astrobotic Technology’s Peregrine spacecraft — the first U.S. lunar lander to launch since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 — had to turn back after suffering a critical fuel leak and burned up upon reentry over a remote area of the South Pacific.

As a result, NASA has pushed back its Artemis III mission to put astronauts back on the moon’s surface by at least a year, or the end of 2026.