India has achieved a historic milestone in its space exploration program by successfully landing its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft on the moon’s surface. The mission marks India’s first soft landing on the lunar terrain and the first-ever landing near the moon’s south pole, a region of great scientific and strategic interest.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission, which was launched on July 19, 2023, from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, consisted of an orbiter, a lander named Vikram, and a rover named Pragyaan. The orbiter, which carries eight scientific instruments, will continue to orbit the moon for at least a year, studying its topography, mineralogy, exosphere, and radiation environment.
The lander and the rover, which carry five scientific instruments each, separated from the orbiter on August 20 and began their descent to the lunar surface on August 23. The landing was a complex and challenging maneuver, as the lander had to reduce its speed from 1.68 km per second to almost zero in about 15 minutes, while avoiding obstacles and finding a suitable landing site.
The lander successfully touched down at 18:04 local time (12:34 GMT) on August 23, near the lunar south pole region. The landing site is closer to the south pole than any previous mission, at a latitude of about 70 degrees south. The South Pole region is considered to be rich in water ice deposits, which could be used for future human habitation and exploration of the moon and beyond.
The rover, which weighs 26 kg and has six wheels, rolled out of the lander’s belly about four hours after the landing. The rover will operate for at least 14 Earth days (one lunar day), exploring the lunar surface and conducting experiments. The rover has an Indian flag and ISRO’s logo and emblem embossed on its wheels, which will leave imprints on the lunar soil.
The lander and the rover will communicate with each other and with the orbiter, which will relay the data and images to the ground station in Bengaluru. The mission aims to study the physical characteristics of the lunar surface, the atmosphere close to the surface, and the tectonic activity below the surface. The mission will also search for signs of water ice and other volatiles in the permanently shadowed regions of the South Pole.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who watched the landing live from South Africa where he was attending the BRICS summit, congratulated ISRO and the nation for achieving this feat. He said that India’s successful moon mission was not only India’s alone, but also a contribution to humanity’s quest for knowledge and exploration.
“India is now on the moon. We have reached where no other country could. It’s a joyous occasion,” he said. “This human-centric approach that we present and we represent has been welcomed universally.”
India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission is the third in a series of lunar missions that began with Chandrayaan-1 in 2008, which discovered evidence of water molecules on the moon. Chandrayaan-2, launched in 2019, attempted to land near the South Pole but failed due to a technical glitch. However, its orbiter is still operational and has provided valuable data and images of the moon.
With Chandrayaan-3, India has joined an elite club of countries that have achieved soft landings on the moon, after the US, the former Soviet Union and China. India has also demonstrated its growing space prowess and ambition, as it plans to launch more missions to explore other planets and celestial bodies in the coming years.