What just happened? To date, the governments of the United States, Russia, and China are the only entities to ever successfully land objects on the Moon. A Tokyo company hoped to join that club and become the first private group to complete a Moon landing this week, but the mission failed at the last minute. The company does not intend to give up however.

Japanese company ispace lost contact with its lunar lander mere minutes before it was supposed to touchdown on the surface, likely indicating that it crashed. A successful touchdown would have made the Tokyo-based business the first-ever private enterprise to complete a Moon landing.

The seven-foot lander named Hakuto (Japanese for white rabbit) descended the final 33 feet onto the lunar surface when communications ceased. The mission crew waited minutes for a response but received none. CEO and founder Takeshi Hakamada later admitted that the spacecraft probably crashed.

The lander lifted off in December on a SpaceX rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, before entering the lunar orbit on March 21. It was supposed to make contact with the surface around 12:40 pm ET. Chief technology officer Ryo Ujie said the hard part was slowing down Hakuto to the right speed in relation to the Moon's gravity.

The spacecraft carried a rover from the United Arab Emirates, a Japanese robot, and other items onboard, which would have conducted experiments on the Moon's surface. Although Hakuto didn't complete all of its objectives, its accomplishments during the trip will provide valuable data for the second spacecraft that ispace is already building. Eventually, ispace wants to run a business to provide transportation to the Moon for other organizations.

NASA is currently laying the groundwork to return to the Moon within this decade. Last year, its Orion spacecraft completed a successful lunar flyby as part of the Artemis I mission. Artemis II will send a crew around the Moon when it launches next year, and NASA plans to send a crew to the surface in the 2025 Artemis III mission. Artemis III's success would mark the first time people have walked on the lunar surface since the 1972 Apollo 17 mission.

Governments and private companies have ambitious plans to increase human presence on the Moon. China and the US are planning nuclear-powered lunar bases, Lockheed Martin and Nokia want to establish wireless communication networks on the Moon, and a startup intends to send a backup data center.