Japan Is Set To Become The Fifth Nation Ever To Land On The Moon

In the early hours of January 20, 2024, Japan aspires to join the elite group of countries that have landed probes on the Moon successfully. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) initiated this mission with the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) launch in September 2023.

JAXA views the SLIM mission as a technology demonstrator, mainly focusing on near-real-time visual precision landing. This cutting-edge landing technology, if successful, would enable future missions to touch down at locations of their choosing rather than being restricted to favorable terrains. Plans for a subsequent Lunar Polar Exploration probe (LUPEX) are already in progress, with collaboration from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

The global interest in lunar exploration has intensified recently, with Russia and India attempting to land probes. Concurrently, the United States pursues its ambitious Artemis program, targeting the return of humans to the Moon while supporting commercial initiatives to establish a sustainable presence. Through its Chang’e project, China continues its methodical lunar exploration, aiming to create the International Lunar Research Station, a joint Chinese–Russian endeavor open to international partners.

Despite public assurances of peaceful intentions in space, statements from officials in leading spacefaring nations hint at their endeavors’ strategic and defensive importance. Russia’s Yury Borisov emphasized the link between space achievements and defensive capabilities, mirroring sentiments US officials expressed regarding space’s military significance. China, too, has developed its military space strategy, raising concerns about the geopolitical implications of the evolving space race.

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty, ratified by numerous countries, is the primary legal framework for space activities. However, the US has introduced the Artemis Accords, seeking common principles for lunar exploration. While 33 countries have signed, notable absences include Russia and China, highlighting geopolitical divides. With the Moon becoming a focal point for exploration, human occupation, and commercial activities, the potential for encounters or conflicts in space rises, necessitating careful diplomatic consideration.

As the world moves toward an increasingly volatile space environment, the existing diplomatic efforts and legal frameworks may face challenges in preventing conflicts. While collaboration on the International Space Station offers a glimmer of hope, the geopolitical complexities surrounding lunar exploration underscore the need for international cooperation to ensure the peaceful use of outer space.

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