I’m a bit of a space nut. I’m sure you’re saying, “Well you certainly are a regular kind of nut” — fair enough – but like many people, nutty or not, I’m also nuts about space. The extraterrestrial, astronaut-blasting-off-into-space-and-landing-on-the-moon kind of space. Not to put too fine a point on it: “Outer Space”.
So I like to try to keep up with the fascinating developments around the space industry – from watching regular (rich) people and 90-year-old celebrities (Capt. James Kirk) go for rockin’ rides in private rockets, to an electric car manufacturer (Elon ‘Must’) putting astronauts in cool uniforms into cool capsules and sending them to the space station, to robots rolling around on Mars and little space ships landing on asteroids. So I found it amusingly fascinating to read about SLIM recently.
SLIM is a spaceship. A moonlander, to be specific. As all we spacenuts know, the space industry is completely obsessed with acronyms. ISS (International Space Station), LEM (Lunar Excursion Module), UWMS (Universal Waste Management System - AKA the ISS bathroom). Well, SLIM stands for Smart Lander for Investigating Moon and it’s the creation of many many years of expensive work done by JAXA. (And, yes, that’s an acronym for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency).
According to Space.com, Japan is the fifth country to pull off a “soft-landing” on the moon. Even after all these years after the world’s biggest headlines first shouted out ONE SMALL STEP! When Neil Armstrong placed his big old boot on the strange powdery surface of the moon in 1969, imaginations soared with what exploration, habitation, and, yes, exploitation of our lunar satellite might become. Instead, once it was discovered that the moon really wasn’t made of green cheese, all that magical Star Trek stuff eventually morphed into boring ole STS. The Space Transportation System. AKA the Space Shuttle.
But finally, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has had a much-needed kick in its weightless butt by rich super-smart private Spacenuts building rockets heading for Deep Space. Starting with the moon. Again. Forty years since the last human played golf on the moon.
The interesting thing about SLIM landing on the moon on January 19th was the fact that the vehicle, a gold foil-covered contraption about the size of a 1995 Dodge Caravan, landed upside down! There are sad pictures of SLIM sitting there in an awkward face-plant position about 322 kilometers from where Neil planted his footprints. SLIM clearly looks embarrassed, stuck there on its nose, its four landing feet sticking wrong-way up on the lonely grey surface of the moon.
But SLIM is still hanging in there in spite of its topsy-turvy trajectory, somehow sending out two little LEVs (Lunar Excursion Vehicles) which further embarrassed the SLIM by transmitting excellent photographs of the head-over-heels Mothership sitting there forlornly, it’s solar panels pointing the wrong way, it’s batteries dying.
But after a dark week on the moon, the sun came out as it tends to do and shone upon the upturned SLIM and lo and behold, the little loser Lander came to life again and started sending analysis of moon rocks back to JAXA! Ultimately, the real mission was getting the little space machine onto the surface of the moon in one piece, and not only was that successful, SLIM’s landing was only 55 meters from its target, making it the most precise ”pinpoint” landing on the moon ever achieved.
In terms of boding, this bodes extremely well technologically for future moon landings from all countries, and it’s about time, because it’s just a stepping moon rock to more incredible outer space exploration. I can hear SLIM shouting all the way from here: “Mugen no kanata e”*.
(*“To infinity and beyond!” – Buzz Lightyear).
Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker. Reach out to Harley with any thoughts or ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.