Japan's moon lander sparks joy by making it through a second lunar night

Brief awakening brought mixed news and familiar scenery

Japan's Space Exploration Agency (JAXA) late last week revealed that its Moon lander had – somewhat unexpectedly – mostly survived a second lunar night and was briefly well enough to send home some snaps.

The Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) reached the surface of Luna on January 19 – a feat that made Japan just the fifth nation to reach Earth's sole natural satellite.

But the mission was declared only a "minimum success" because, while SLIM's autonomous precision landing system worked, the craft tipped onto its side with its solar panels pointed in a sub-optimal direction. The lander managed to unload its pair of tiny experimental rovers and capture a few snaps of the Moon, but the poorer-than-expected solar energy production meant it could not perform some planned tasks and it was put to sleep.

Happily, JAXA was able to revive SLIM in late February after it unexpectedly survived a terrifyingly cold lunar night.

On March 27, JAXA pinged SLIM just in case, and was pleased that it responded – like when you try friending your high school crush on Facebook.

"The SLIM control room is normally calm and collected no matter what happens, but the moment SLIM responded, it was filled with loud cheers," reads a JAXA Xeet.

The lander was even working well enough to produce the following image.

The Moon as seen by JAXA's SLIM last week

The Moon as seen by JAXA's SLIM last week – Click to enlarge

Other data sent home revealed that some of SLIM's temperature sensors and unused battery cells are starting to malfunction, but the majority of functions that survived the first lunar night were still operational.

JAXA continued to test SLIM on the night of March 29, by "turning on switches and applying loads." But on the 30th the lander again entered a dormant state and the space agency’s crew tried to understand the state of the machine.

An April 1 post – no joke – offered an update to the effect that "It is unclear whether the third [lunar] night will be possible as the sensors and other functions are gradually being lost, but we would appreciate your continued support."

You got it, JAXA and SLIM. Here's to as many more lunar sunrises as you can manage. ®

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