The spacecraft sent back a spectacular view of Earth and the moon

The race to land on the moon will bleed into 2024 as more national space programs and private companies continue the daunting feat.

Although only about half of all lunar landing attempts succeed without crashing, space fans are likely to get plenty of amazing photos of Earth and the moon along the way, as the latest warned of Japan: Its unmanned SLIM mission, short for Smart Lander for Moon Investigation, captures a rare snapshot of Earth hovering over the moon, though you’ll have to -squint to see it. Japan, illuminated by dawn, is surrounded by Earth in the photo.

“When the SLIM team first saw this picture, they wondered… what is that white dot under the Earth?!” said JAXA, the Japanese counterpart of NASA, on X (formerly known as Twitter) on December 20.


India’s moon lander made history as the first to reach the coveted south pole

At the time the photo was taken in September, the spacecraft was more than 60,000 miles away from our planet.

Today, SLIM is closer to the moon than to Earth and is expected to enter lunar orbit in less than a week.

JAXA will descend to the lunar surface for its landing on January 20. That would put it several weeks ahead of US-based Astrobotic Technologies’ moon landing effort, which will attempt to bring five NASA instruments to the surface, and other payloads. The SLIM mission follows the failed lunar landing by the private Japanese company ispace in April.

The reason the spacecraft was seen traveling further away from the moon in this navigation camera image is the result of SLIM’s special fuel-saving trajectory, said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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The SLIM mission launched from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center on Sept.
Credit: JIJI Press / AFP / Japan OUT via Getty Images

When the spacecraft reaches a point in space where the gravitational pull of Earth and the sun is balanced, it can quickly change direction, without having to fight the tugs of the planet or the star, he told Mashable.

“With a small spritz of the rocket thruster, you can fall back to the moon on a path that goes through the moon relatively slowly, allowing you to land quickly,” he said. “The downside is that it takes a few months instead of a few days to get there from Earth.”

As the spacecraft flies this leisurely journey, the moon continues to do what it does: circle the Earth every month.

“For several months, the moon orbits the Earth several times,” explained McDowell, “so during this time, sometimes relative to SLIM, it is on the same side as the Earth, and sometimes it is on the other side. part.”

The SLIM mission launched from Japan’s Tanegashima Space Center on Sept. Its purpose was to demonstrate a so-called “pinpoint landing” with an accuracy of less than 100 yards, a level of precision unprecedented for lunar landings. Most landing targets are several square miles in area.

In August, India became the fourth country to land on the moon, joining an elite cadre of space-faring nations — the former Soviet Union, the United States, and China — to have achieved this feat. . The achievement came just days after the Russian space agency Roscosmos lost the Luna-25 robotic spacecraft, which was orbiting the moon but apparently crashed after a botched flight maneuver. The dueling missions are both trying to place their crewed spacecraft near the south pole region.

Some 60 years have passed since the first uncrewed moon landings, but touching down remains heavy. The moon’s atmosphere is so thin, that there is almost no drag to slow down a spacecraft as it approaches the earth. Additionally, there is no GPS system on the moon to help guide a craft to its landing spot.

Many countries and private companies are eyeing the moon’s south pole for its ice, which is believed to be buried there in permanently shadowed craters. Natural resources are desirable because they can provide drinking water, oxygen, and rocket fuel for future missions, ushering in a new era of spaceflight.

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