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The fifth country to land on the moon: Japan celebrates the successful landing

The fifth country to land on the moon: Japan celebrates the successful landing

There was great jubilation: On Friday, Japan became the fifth country in the world to land a spacecraft on the moon. The space agency said that the Intelligent Lunar Exploration Lander (“Slim”) gently landed on the moon’s surface. Slim's mission will be to examine rocks and search for water on the moon.

Japan's first two attempts to land on the moon were unsuccessful: In 2022, the small Japanese probe Omotenashi flew towards the moon with the American Artemis 1 mission. But once in space, the probe's battery failed. In April 2023, a lunar module from Japanese startup Ispace crashed on the moon. There was even greater joy in Japan yesterday over its promotion to the exclusive club of countries that have landed on the moon. So far, only the United States of America, the Soviet Union, China and India have succeeded in landing on the moon.

What distinguishes the Slim spacecraft, which is 2.40 meters long and 1.70 meters wide, is its accuracy: it can hit its target in a lunar crater with an accuracy of up to one hundred metres, which is why it is nicknamed the “Moon Sniper”. Whether the landing actually went according to plan remained unclear yesterday.

The United States was first

The data that Japan now wants to collect on the moon will be used in NASA's Artemis program, which aims to return people to the moon by 2025.

The United States was the first country to land on the moon in 1969. Through the Artemis program, NASA wants to return to the moon and establish a permanent presence there, as a stopover for planned missions to Mars. The first preparatory mission, Artemis 1, took place at the end of 2022 after several postponements. The unmanned Orion capsule orbits the moon. However, there were technical problems with Artemis 1.

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The next preparatory mission, Artemis 2, was postponed by one year to September 2025 at the beginning of January. During this manned mission, astronauts will orbit the Moon without landing on it. The actual Artemis 3 lunar landing mission is now not scheduled to take place until 2026 because NASA needs more time to prepare.

A lunar module from Elon Musk's high-tech company SpaceX will be used in the first landing of American astronauts on the moon since 1972. It is a modified version of SpaceX's Starship spacecraft, which exploded during the first two launch attempts. Another test is scheduled for February.

Like the United States, Russia also took a long break from traveling to the moon after the 1970s. The failed Luna 25 mission in August 2023 was supposed to mark the beginning of Russia's return to the moon. The lander, which was supposed to collect samples for a year, crashed on a rocky surface, representing a bitter setback for Moscow.

On the far side of the moon

Decades after the Soviet Union and the United States, China became the third country to put a person into space in 2003. To catch up with NASA and Roscosmos, Beijing has invested billions of dollars in its military-run space program: in 2012, a Chinese spacecraft, the Chang'e- 3, on the moon for the first time. Seven years later, the People's Republic became the first country to land a probe on the far side of the moon. In 2020, a Chinese lunar robot returned soil samples to Earth for the first time in more than 40 years.

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India's Chandrayaan-3 probe, in turn, was the first spacecraft to land on the moon's unexplored south pole in August 2023. The landing was a triumph for India's ambitious space programme.


Heidi Ripple

Foreign Policy Editor, Felspiegel

Heidi Ripple

Heidi Ripple


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