Tokyo (AFP) – Japan landed a spacecraft on the moon on Saturday, in an attempt to make the world's first “planned lunar landing.” This achievement puts Japan in a club previously occupied only by the United States, the Soviet Union, India and China.
A wide range of countries and companies are also planning missions to the Moon. Success means academic accolades, international diplomacy and potential domestic political gains. Failure means very costly and public embarrassment.
Here's a look at recent and upcoming high-profile attempts, and what they might mean.
NASA plans to send astronauts to fly around the moon next year and land there in 2026.
However, US company Astrobotic Technology said this week that its lunar lander would soon burn up in Earth's atmosphere after a failed mission to the Moon.
The lander, named Peregrine, had a fuel leak, forcing Astrobotic to abandon its attempt to make the first U.S. moon landing in more than 50 years. The company suspects that a stuck valve caused the tank to rupture.
NASA is marketing lunar deliveries through private companies while the US government tries to return astronauts to the moon.
Currently, the United States' ability to spend large sums and organize supply chains gives it an advantage over China and other competitors on the moon. Private sector players, such as SpaceX and Blue Origin, have made crewed space missions a priority.
Another American company, Intuitive Machines, plans to launch its own lander on the moon next month.
Last year, India became the first country to land a spacecraft near the moon's south pole, where scientists believe the permanently dark craters may contain frozen water that could aid future missions.
In 2019, a software glitch caused an Indian lander to crash while landing on the moon. So the success of the $75 million project in August brought widespread jubilation, with people in the streets cheering and declaring India's rise as a scientific superpower.
Read more: How India's rover's discoveries of sulfur in lunar soil could pave the way for future lunar bases
Indian scientists said the next step is to send a manned mission to the moon.
This success is considered key to boosting Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity ahead of the crucial general elections this year.
India has been pushing for a space program since the 1960s and aims to visit the International Space Station next year in cooperation with the United States.
New Delhi believes that victory in space is also important in its competition with its nuclear-armed neighbor, China. Relations between India and China have deteriorated since deadly border clashes in 2020.
China landed on the moon in 2013, and last year it launched a three-person crew for its Earth-orbiting space station. It hopes to send astronauts to the moon before the end of the decade.
In 2020, a Chinese capsule returned to Earth from the moon with the first new samples of lunar rocks in more than 40 years. China's first manned space mission in 2003 made it the third country after the Soviet Union and the United States to send a person into space.
China's space ambitions are linked to its competition with the United States, as the world's two largest economies compete for diplomatic, political and military influence in Asia and beyond.
China has built its own space station after being excluded from the International Space Station, in part because of U.S. objections to cozy ties between China's space program and the military.
China and the United States are also considering plans to establish permanent crew bases on the moon. This has raised questions about competition and cooperation on the moon.
Also last year, the Russian Luna 25 spacecraft failed in its attempt to land in the same region of the moon that India reached.
This came 47 years after the Soviets landed on the moon, and Russian scientists blamed this long failure, and the accompanying loss of space expertise, for the final failure.
Read more: Russia's failure on the lunar mission raises questions about the state of the space program
The Soviets launched the first satellite into space in 1957 and sent the first human into space in 1961, but the Russian program has faced difficulties since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 amid widespread corruption and Western sanctions that have harmed scientific development.
Russia plans to carry out another mission to the moon in 2027.
Russia's failures and the growing role of private companies such as Elon Musk's SpaceX have cost Russia its once-large position in the lucrative global space launch market.
Just as India's success was seen as evidence of its rise to great power status, some portrayed Russia's failure as casting doubt on its global influence and power.
Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
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