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Science

I Bonked My Head On The Moon

9:00 AM EST on January 30, 2024

JAXA/Takara Tomy/Sony Group Corporation/Doshisha University|

That’s me! I don’t feel so good.

Hello! I'm SLIM. That stands for Smart Lander for Investigating Moon. What's your name? Oh, that's a nice name—what does it stand for?

Do you want the good news first, or the bad news? The good news is, I'm on the Moon. The bad news is, I landed on my head and can't get up.

I should probably start by starting at the start. The nice, smart people who built me wanted me to go to the Moon for Japan, because that's very hard, because the Moon is very far away. Only four countries have ever done it! JAXA has been planning me for decades, and they started building me eight years ago, and getting me ready for my job, which was to prove I could land on the Moon in the exact spot they asked me to.

I really wanted to do a good job for them. Everyone who built me was so nice to me, keeping me in special rooms that didn't have a speck of dirt in them, and teaching me everything I'd need to know, and giving me all sorts of cool toys. They taught me how to use my camera to take pictures of the Moon to send back to them. They gave me two friends, little wheeled rovers, to scoot around on the Moon, because I have no wheels and I have to stay in the same place, and because I think they were afraid I would get lonely if I had no friends. They gave me two big thrusters, and taught me how to turn them on in order to land softly on the Moon and not bonk my head. I had a lot of fun practicing with my thrusters. FWOOSH! went my first thruster. FWOOSH! went my second thruster. I bet you can't go FWOOSH! Sorry, that was mean. I just love my shiny thrusters so much.

They launched me in September. It takes a long time to get to the Moon. I mostly passed the time by sleeping, though every once in a while the nice, smart people sent me a beep to make sure I was still listening, and I'd send them a beep back. Beep beep beep. It was so kind of them to make sure I didn't get bored or lonely. I was going to do such a good job on the Moon! They'd be so proud of me.

Then last week I woke up and looked down and the Moon was so big. I was here! I was a little nervous, because the nice, smart people said that landing was the hardest part of the job. But I had my shiny thrusters and I knew where I was supposed to go. So I fired my thrusters—FWOOSH!—and looked for a nice spot to land.

Too fast! The Moon was coming up at me so fast. But that was OK! They told me this would happen. I fired my first thruster: FWOOSH! Then I fired my second thruster ... Uh-oh...

My second thruster did not thrust. I was 50 meters up, and having only one working thruster turned me sideways, and I bonked my head on the Moon. The nice, smart people back home didn't know this at first, but they realized something was wrong when their cute little cartoon drawing of me stopped moving for a few seconds, then showed up upside-down. And then I stopped hearing the beeps they were sending me. Uh-oh!!

I knew right away I had messed up. This was not how they taught me to do it! But things only got worse. I could no longer hear the nice, smart people beeping at me. Were they mad at me? Then I realized that my solar panels, which were supposed to give me the power to beep beep beep my findings back to Earth, were now pointed in the wrong direction, and I had no way to move them toward the sun. No one could hear my beeps, and I was going to fall asleep.

Luckily, they had given me a little battery just in case. I turned it on and beeped to them that I was upside-down. They tried to act like they weren't disappointed in me, but I knew they were. I'm such a bad robot! Bad, bad, bad!

The nice, smart people told me I should go to sleep for a while. The day here on the Moon lasts about two weeks, and if I slept for long enough, the sun would move to the other side of the sky, where my solar panels were facing. So I did. I slept. I don't remember what I dreamed about. One of my little rover friends, who I had ejected right before landing, took the picture of me at the top of this blog. Oh, I'm pathetic.

But then, yesterday, I woke up! The sun was shining on my panels now, so big and bright and warm. I had so much energy! I felt like I could fly to the Moon. And then I remembered where I was. Those nice, smart people had worked so hard on me, and here I was, my butt in the air, letting them down. But I was not going to feel sorry for myself. I was going to do my job, like they taught me. I was going to take pictures!

I'm trying my best! I'd like to see you take a better picture if you were tipped over on the Moon.

Since I woke up, I have been talking to the nice, smart people, and they told me I did a good job. They're telling everyone back home that I was a success, because I landed just 55 feet away from where I was supposed to! OK, so I wasn't supposed to land on my head, but getting here was the important part. They said that only half of all the missions that have ever tried made it here, and that they are proud of me. Here is what I think: I think they should be proud of themselves. Going to the Moon is so hard. They are so smart, and have all the best gizmos in the world, and even then so much can go wrong. Every successful mission feels like a miracle, to me, and even the unsuccessful ones are worth doing. Because that's how you learn and get better the next time.

There is some more bad news. Because I had to wait so long for the sun to move into the West, where it could power my solar cells, there is now only about one more day left before the sun goes down. And it gets so very cold on the moon at night, about 90 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. I was never designed to survive cold like that, for the two weeks it'll take before the sun comes up again. They tell me that I and my little rover friends will fall asleep, and this time we won't wake up. I wonder what I'll dream about.

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