The bonds of camaraderie, and the challenges that supported the world's first successful pinpoint moon landing by SLIM

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The bonds of camaraderie, and the challenges that supported the world's first successful pinpoint moon landing by SLIM The bonds of camaraderie, and the challenges that supported the world's first successful pinpoint moon landing by SLIM
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  • The bonds of camaraderie, and the challenges that supported the world's first successful pinpoint moon landing by SLIM

The year 2024 opened with a new visitor to the Moon: before dawn on January 20, the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) successfully made the world's first pinpoint lunar landing. Mitsubishi Electric was selected by JAXA to be the primary developer of SLIM, but the development itself was extremely challenging. While everyone was struggling in their own positions, two of their peers who joined the company in 2019 inspired each other and overcame their own obstacles.

Shotaro Inoue (left) Hideya Tokumura (right)

    Mitsubishi Electric Space Systems DivisionShotaro Inoue (left)

    Joined the company in 2019. After working in sales at Kamakura Works, he is responsible for publicity and advertising activities for the space business, and for formulating business strategies at the head office from FY2022. He has been a baseball player/fan since elementary school. He is called, "Inosho."


    Mitsubishi Electric Kamakura WorksHideya Tokumura (right)

    Joined the company in 2019. He is a test engineer responsible for quality control at the manufacturing site. He was in charge of subsystem (component) testing, but in 2022, four years after joining the company, he was entrusted with SLIM and involved in the testing process from start to finish. His nickname is, "Toku."

The desire to be involved in space

- Congratulations on the SLIM moon landing! What kind of work were you both responsible for at SLIM?

Tokumura: In a word, I am the "nurturer" of SLIM. If the designers are the "creators," we nurture SLIM so that it can work in space while conducting various tests. After completing the tests at Kamakura Works, I also took charge of the entire launch operation as the on-site work leader at the launch site. I am proud to say that among the many people involved, I was the one who stayed beside SLIM the longest.

Inoue: My job is publicity and advertising. For example, I created the SLIM poster, "Japanese Technology Goes to the Moon," and I came up with the catchphrase. I distributed the posters directly to local government offices and stores on Tanegashima, and I filmed the SLIM launch video on Tanegashima and uploaded it to SNS.

- It's a very good catchphrase. Please tell us how you got to your current job.

Inoue: When I was in junior high school, my father bought me a copy of the science magazine, Newton, and as I looked through his astronomical telescope at every phenomenon such as a total lunar eclipse, I became fascinated by the magnificence of space. One day, when I was talking about space with a classmate, he said to me, "Japan is not that strong in space development," and I thought, "We should do space development not on a national basis, but on a global basis."
In high school, I was too immersed in baseball to pursue a science career, and in college I studied economics. But I continued to have a desire to be involved in space as an earthling, including taking classes in the astronomy department when I studied abroad at the University of Hawaii. I then joined Mitsubishi Electric, a company I had longed to work for because of its strong policy of contributing to the resolution of social issues.

- What about you, Mr. Tokumura?

Tokumura: It all started when I was in elementary school, when I saw the Mitsubishi Group's, "What If There Was No Moon?" exhibit at the "EXPO 2005 AICHI, JAPAN." My curiosity about space became uncontrollable, and I strongly felt that I wanted to be involved in space development when I grew up. My university entrance examinations did not fulfill my wish to specialize in space, so I went on to mechanical engineering. But when I was job hunting, I asked myself, "Can I live a fulfilled life without space?" I narrowed my focus to Mitsubishi Electric, which develops a variety of satellites, and made a strong appeal at the interview.

- How did you appeal to them?

Tokumura: I had a strong sense that I wanted to work in a place that was closest to satellites. Also, I wanted to be involved in all the processes of satellite development. In the design department, there are not many opportunities to physically touch things. That's why I wanted to work in the manufacturing division instead of the design division. I passionately presented my passion for space and how my research would be useful.

- You two were peers who entered the company in the same year, weren't you? What was your relationship like?

Tokumura: Of the approximately 1,000 people who entered the company in the same year, 73 were assigned to Kamakura Works. Inosho and I became good friends through surfing and games, and we both took the initiative in planning events such as barbecues. But we gradually stopped seeing each other as our occupations were different and our workplaces changed. Then one day in 2023, I found Inosho among the photos of customers on the wall of a restaurant on Tanegashima Island while I was working on the range operation there (laughs).

Inoue: I received a call out of the blue saying, "I found you," and that was how I first learned that Toku was in charge of SLIM. When Toku found out that I was in charge of public relations for SLIM, he started sending me pictures saying, "This is what's going on at SLIM right now," and we began to communicate with each other frequently.

Difficulties we faced

- SLIM brought you two back together; what difficulties did you face in SLIM?

Tokumura: Explorers and satellites like SLIM cannot be repaired after launch. Furthermore, SLIM is a complex system with many functions packed into a small and lightweight airframe. With the weather satellites and other large satellites that Mitsubishi Electric had developed up to then, we had been able to pinpoint the cause of any problems to some extent based on our knowledge; but this was our first attempt at landing on the moon, so conventional wisdom would not apply. The first tests, the equipment, the software... SLIM was all new to me, and when a problem occurred, I had to find the cause from scratch.
But no matter how difficult it was, I had one reason not to give up: I raised my hand and said, "I want to do SLIM. If SLIM succeeds in landing a man on the moon, it will be the first time in Japan - and the first time in the world - for a pinpoint lunar landing. I really want to send a probe into space with my own hands that will change the conventional wisdom of landing on the moon!" I went directly to the director of the department to ask for his advice. People like myself may be rare. But this child - SLIM - was too challenging.

- "This child;" you are indeed a nurturing parent. How did you overcome the difficulties?

Tokumura: We identified every risk that could befall SLIM and worked to prevent any problems before they occurred. I focused more on the preparation than the actual test. Whenever I felt my heart was about to break, I would look at the SLIM and think to myself, "Now, I am doing space development, my dream!" I picked myself back up.

- What difficulties did you face, Mr. Inoue?

Inoue: In 2023, a rocket launch failed and an earth observation satellite that Mitsubishi Electric was in charge of developing and manufacturing was lost, so we wanted to use SLIM as an opportunity to boost the company and promote our project outside the company. But I didn't know where to start. When I was working as a sales representative in Kamakura, I would give a quote when I received an inquiry from a customer. In other words, I was passive. I was not used to thinking and acting on my own.

- How did you overcome?

Inoue: For the time being, I tried to make sales by walking my feet off. For example, we made appointments at the Minami-Tane Town Hall on Tanegashima Island and with the person in charge of rocket launches at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and we went around to stores to put up posters. By talking directly to people we had never contacted before, we were able to convey our enthusiasm and listen to many voices. We also did our best to take video footage of the rocket launch.

- Why did you decide to shoot the video?

Inoue: I thought that the part where the probe takes off was the most exciting scene. I wanted to show the video on Mitsubishi Electric's SNS to many people, so I posted it immediately after shooting and was very happy to see the tremendous amount of traffic.

Mr. Inoue standing by to photograph the launch.

A sense of unity that transcends organizational boundaries

- What have you gained through your work with SLIM?

Tokumura: Beyond our department, "Team SLIM" worked together as one on tests and solved problems. At the launch site, we often worked together with other companies for the first time, as well as JAXA. Everyone shared the common goal of making Japan's space development better. I felt a sense of unity in Team JAPAN as they said to me, "Let's work hard together."

Mr. Tokumura was there to see the H-IIA No. 47 rocket off with SLIM on board to the launch pad.

Inoue: When we were distributing posters on Tanegashima Island and filming the SLIM launch at the tour site, members of the public from all over the country said, "We support you!" We received words of support from people saying, "Mitsubishi Electric is indispensable to Japan's space industry." Knowing that so many people knew about our space business and were supporting us made me feel proud, because of the history of Mitsubishi Electric's space business that we had cultivated up to that very day. At the same time, I wanted to bring that voice to the people and engineers on the ground, like Toku. Because the voices of the general public would not have been heard otherwise.

Tokumura: I couldn’t reach them because I was on site all the time.

Inoue: I felt that a sense of unity was created within the company as we did a series of firsts, such as uploading the video to SNS for those outside the company, planning an online event to broadcast the launch live within the company, and sending out feedback from the public through the company SNS. We shared the photos of SLIM that Toku gave us within the company, and when the launch was a success, we were so happy that we joyfully exclaimed, "Yay!" When the launch was a success, we were all very happy.

Tokumura: I was happy that Inosho actively promoted SLIM. Thank you.

Two shots of SLIM and Mr. Tokumura during the vibration test.

- How do you want to use this experience in the future?

Inoue: I want to value connections. This time, I feel that my world has expanded so much through my interactions with the people of Tanegashima, my peers, and people involved in SLIM. I want to cherish these connections and create opportunities for people to fall in love with space. I am very grateful to my father for giving me the first opportunity to fall in love with space, and I hope to provide such an opportunity to many people.

Tokumura: It may seem like a lot of fun to work at the closest point to the probe and even see the launch of the rocket, but in reality it is an accumulation of hard and tedious work. For example, there are days when I have to bundle hundreds of cables all day long, but I look for the element of excitement in such work. I challenge myself to think about how I can bundle the cables better and faster. I think it is important to "never cease to be curious" in any kind of work, in order to reach great happiness through a series of humble days.

Bringing technology acquired in space development to the ground

- How can space development contribute to our lives, and not just to SLIM?

Inoue: I believe that technologies acquired through space development can be utilized on the ground in various situations. That is why I strongly feel that space development must be promoted. In this sense, we would like to make every effort to attract more people to the project and to help them understand it.

Tokumura: At a time when space development and lunar exploration are gaining momentum, I think SLIM is a big step forward for Japan, and it gives us a dream to pursue. Space development has unlimited potential. And I believe that space development is the best embodiment of, "An Even Better Tomorrow," which Mitsubishi Electric cherishes. I am proud to be part of such development.

*All applicable company and product names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

Written by Our Stories Editing Team

Interviewer/Writer: Kimiyo Hayashi

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