Japan became the fifth country ever to land a spacecraft on the Moon this week but the country’s precision lander face-planted on the surface causing power issues.
The photo of the upended Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) was only made possible by two small baseball-sized rovers that separated from the crewless mothership just prior to touchdown.
The little robots called LEV-2 and LEV-1 were made with the help of Japanese toy maker Takara Tomy and are designed in a sphere shape that splits in half so that cameras are exposed which point both front and back. The bisections also become the rover’s wheels.
If this sounds like something from the Transformers that’s because it is — Takara Tomy created the famous alien robots that can disguise themselves as machines.
The newly-released photo taken by the camera robots came in useful because it allowed the Japanese engineers to see that the spaceship had landed awkwardly on its nose therefore pointing its solar panels in the wrong direction which it needs for power.
“This image was transferred to the ground via LEV-1, and it was confirmed that the communication function between LEV-1 and LEV-2 was operating normally,” said a spokesperson.
“Additionally, since LEV-2 was deformed from its spherical state in its stored state, we were also able to confirm that it was successfully deployed and driven on the lunar surface after being released from SLIM.”
It is incredibly difficult to land on the Moon and although SLIM slammed onto the lunar surface pointing the wrong way JAXA (Japan’s space agency) says that it achieved its main goal of a “pinpoint landing” touching down at its marker within 100 yards. In fact, SLIM was just 11 yards shy of its target.
Another good thing is that the golden spacecraft did not shatter into pieces and remains intact despite the awkward landing.
Japan is now the fifth country to pull off a soft landing on the Moon, joining the U.S., China, the former Soviet Union, and India.
Image credits: JAXA/TOMY Copmany/Sony/Doishisha University.