Two Overturned Moon Landers Face Unlikely Survival After Lunar Night

The lunar night has once again set in, challenging the survival of two recently landed spacecraft on the moon: SLIM from Japan and the Odysseus from the American company, Intuitive Machines. Both these craft have shut down for the fortnight-long stretch of Lunar night, which was confirmed by both teams this week. Their revival and resumption of operations is not guaranteed, but attempts will be made to reestablish contact when conditions improve.

These solar-powered landers were not designed to endure the extreme cold of the lunar night. However, SLIM, which has been on the moon since 19th January, has already survived one such night, against all odds. As for Odysseus, it landed on the moon on February 22 and will now encounter its first lunar night.

By 3am JST on March 1, the sun had set on the Shioli Crater forcing SLIM to go into dormancy. However, considering the repeated and extreme temperature cycles, there’s an increased risk of malfunction, despite which, the SLIM team will strive to resume operations once the sun rises in late March.

These missions, although successful in ensuring the spacecraft’s survival post-landing, demonstrate the inherent difficulties associated with moon landings. Both SLIM and Odysseus tipped over following their touchdowns, leaving both stuck in less-than-ideal positions.

SLIM managed to take and share photographs of the moon’s surface, including a glance at the Shioli crater, before going into shutdown mode. Similarly, Odysseus has sent some pictures captured through its wide-angle camera back home. The last photograph sent by Odysseus before going offline captured a part of the lander, the lunar surface, and a faint crescent Earth.

There has been great anticipation for images from the EagleCam, developed by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University students, which was carried by Odysseus. Unfortunately, the chances of capturing such images seem bleak now.

Before losing power, Odysseus sent out a poignant final message showcasing the crescent Earth standing as a subtle indicator of man’s existence in the universe. The intended camera deployment failed to take place before the landing. Despite this, the Intuitive Machines team managed to switch it on and eject it post the surface landing. That said, communication with the camera remains difficult. Efforts to restore communication are underway but the lunar night is only making things worse.