TOKYO (AP) — Japan became the fifth country in history to reach the moon when one of its spacecrafts without astronauts successfully made a soft landing on the lunar surface early Saturday.
However, space officials said they needed more time to analyze whether the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM, achieved its mission priority of making a pinpoint landing. They also said the craft’s solar panel had failed to generate power, which could shorten its activity on the moon.
Space officials believe that the SLIM’s small rovers were launched as planned and that data was being transmitted back to Earth, said Hitoshi Kuninaka, head of the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science, a unit of Japan’s space agency.
But he said that SLIM’s solar battery wasn’t generating power and that it had only a few more hours of battery life. He said the priority was for the craft to gather as much data about its landing and the moon as possible on the remaining battery.
Japan follows the United States, the Soviet Union, China and India in reaching the moon.
Kuninaka said he believes that Japan’s space program at least achieved “minimum” success.
SLIM landed on the moon at about 12:20 a.m. Tokyo time Saturday (1520 GMT Friday).
There was a tense wait for news after the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s mission control initially said that SLIM was on the lunar surface, but that it was still “checking its status.” No further details were given until a news conference nearly two hours lat
For the mission to be considered fully successful, space officials needed to confirm whether SLIM made a pinpoint landing. Kuninaka said that while more time was needed, he personally thought it was most likely achieved, based on his observation of data showing the spacecraft’s movement until the landing and its ability to transmit signals after landing. He said the solar panel is possibly not in the planned angle, but there is still hope.
Despite the solar panel issue, “it’s delightful news,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a message posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, pledging the government’s continuing backing for the endeavors toward new challenges.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson also lauded SLIM’s landing with an X message, congratulating Japan “on being the historic 5th country to land successfully on the Moon! We value our partnership in the cosmos and continued collaboration” in the U.S.-led multinational Artemis Moon exploration.
SLIM, which was aiming to hit a very small target, is a lightweight spacecraft about the size of a passenger vehicle. It was using “pinpoint landing” technology that promises far greater control than any previous moon landing.
While most previous probes have used landing zones about 10 kilometers (six miles) wide, SLIM was aiming at a target of just 100 meters (330 feet).