India has achieved a historic feat by becoming the first country to land a spacecraft on the moon’s south pole. The Chandrayaan-3 mission, which includes a lander and a small rover, touched down on the lunar surface on Wednesday, August 23, 2023, at 6:04 pm India time (12:34 GMT).
A follow-up to the failed Chandrayaan-2 mission
The Chandrayaan-3 mission is a follow-up to India’s previous attempt to land on the moon in 2019, which ended in failure when the Chandrayaan-2 mission’s Vikram lander lost contact with Earth moments before its scheduled landing. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said it had made corrections and improvements to the Chandrayaan-3 lander, which is named Vikram after the father of India’s space program, Vikram Sarabhai.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission was launched on July 19, 2023, from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh. It took nearly six weeks to reach the moon, using a less powerful rocket than those used by other space agencies, which required several orbits around Earth to gain speed before embarking on its lunar trajectory.
A milestone for India’s space ambitions
The successful landing of Chandrayaan-3 is a major achievement for India, which has been rapidly advancing its space capabilities in recent years. India is only the fourth country to land a spacecraft on the moon, after the United States, Russia and China. It is also the first to explore the lunar south pole, which is thought to be rich in water ice and other resources that could be useful for future missions to deeper space destinations like Mars.
The Chandrayaan-3 lander carries a small rover named Pragyan, which means “wisdom” in Sanskrit. The rover will deploy from the lander and conduct experiments on the lunar surface for about 14 days, or one lunar day. The rover will use its cameras and instruments to study the topography, mineralogy and elemental composition of the moon’s south polar region.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission also carries a scientific payload of 14 instruments from India and other countries, including NASA, ESA and JAXA. The instruments will collect data on the moon’s geology, atmosphere and radiation environment. Some of the instruments will also test new technologies for future lunar exploration, such as laser retroreflectors and radio occultation experiments.
A boost for global interest in the moon
The Chandrayaan-3 mission comes at a time when there is renewed interest in the moon among various space agencies and private companies. The moon is seen as a potential gateway for exploring other worlds in the solar system and beyond. The lunar south pole, in particular, is considered a prime location for establishing a permanent human presence on the moon, due to its abundant water ice and exposure to sunlight.
Both China and the United States have plans to send humans to the lunar south pole in the coming years. China’s Chang’e-5 mission, which launched in December 2022, returned samples from a volcanic region near the moon’s equator. China is also preparing to launch its Chang’e-6 mission, which will attempt to collect samples from the south pole in 2024. The United States’ Artemis program aims to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2025, as part of a long-term goal of establishing a sustainable lunar base.
However, India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission has also faced some challenges and competition from other countries. Russia’s Luna-25 mission, which was supposed to be its first moon mission in almost 50 years, crashed into the lunar surface on August 20, 2023, after an orbital maneuver went awry. Russia blamed technical glitches and human errors for the failure. Russia is planning to launch its Luna-26 orbiter and Luna-27 lander in 2024 and 2025 respectively.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Beresheet-2 mission, which is a second attempt after its Beresheet-1 mission failed to land on the moon in 2019, is expected to launch in late 2023 or early 2024. Israel hopes to become the second country after India to land a privately funded spacecraft on the moon. The Beresheet-2 mission will consist of two landers and an orbiter that will explore different regions of the moon.
A proud moment for India and humanity
The successful landing of Chandrayaan-3 has been greeted with jubilation and pride by Indians and people around the world. Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated ISRO and said that India had made history with its “bold and daring” mission. He also said that Chandrayaan-3 was not only a scientific achievement but also a symbol of India’s aspirations and potential.
ISRO Chairman K Sivan said that the Chandrayaan-3 mission was a “dream come true” for the entire ISRO team and the nation. He thanked the government, the scientific community and the public for their support and encouragement. He also said that Chandrayaan-3 was a tribute to Vikram Sarabhai, who envisioned India’s space program 60 years ago.
The international space community also praised India’s accomplishment and expressed their interest in collaborating with India on future lunar missions. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said that NASA was looking forward to receiving data from Chandrayaan-3’s instruments and working with ISRO on the Artemis program. ESA Director General Josef Aschbacher said that ESA was proud to be a partner of ISRO and congratulated India on its “remarkable achievement”. JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa said that JAXA was excited to see the results of Chandrayaan-3’s rover and hoped to cooperate with ISRO on future lunar exploration.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission is expected to provide new insights into the moon’s origin, evolution and resources. It will also inspire future generations of scientists, engineers and explorers to pursue their dreams and ambitions in space. As Prime Minister Modi said, “Chandrayaan-3 is not only a mission of India, but a mission of humanity.”