In a remarkable feat of space exploration, India's Chandrayaan-3 has successfully achieved a soft landing on the lunar surface, marking a significant milestone in the nation's pursuit of lunar exploration. The achievement comes after its predecessor faced setbacks during a mission in 2019.
The momentous landing occurred precisely at 5:34 am PT (6:04 pm IST) on a Wednesday, more than a month after the spacecraft's launch. This achievement solidifies India's position as the fourth nation worldwide to accomplish a soft landing on the moon, following in the footsteps of the former Soviet Union, the United States, and China. However, India claims an even more remarkable distinction as the first country to achieve a lunar south pole landing—an uncharted region that promises invaluable insights into the moon's atmosphere and holds immense potential for future space exploration endeavors.
S. Somanath, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), expressed pride in the collaborative efforts that led to Chandrayaan-3's triumph. He stated, "Chandrayaan-3 is a result of the work done by thousands of scientists, engineers, our staff and industries and support teams across ISRO and other places, other institutions."
The path to this success was not without competition. Russia's recent attempt to achieve a lunar south pole landing with the Luna-25 spacecraft was foiled when it crashed into the moon after losing communication with Roscosmos, Russia's space agency. India's Chandrayaan-3, however, emerged victorious in this lunar race.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission, launched by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), aims to demonstrate safe landing capabilities, rover exploration, and on-site scientific experiments on the moon's surface. Developed with a budget of under $75 million, the spacecraft comprises a propulsion module, lander, and rover, equipped with a total of seven scientific instruments.
Learning from the challenges faced by its predecessor, Chandrayaan-3's lander incorporates enhanced sensors, software, and propulsion systems. Rigorous simulations and extensive testing ensured that the lander was built to withstand the harsh lunar environment and execute a successful landing.
The mission's objectives include seismic vibration experiments, plasma analysis, temperature measurements, thermal conductivity studies, elemental composition analysis, and spectral signatures assessment of the lunar surface.
India's strides in lunar exploration do not end with Chandrayaan-3. The insights gained from this mission will play a crucial role in NASA's Artemis III crew mission, set to launch as early as 2025. By understanding the lunar surface better, subsequent human missions can be conducted with greater accuracy and preparation.
Although Chandrayaan-3's rover is identical to its predecessor's, its lander boasts key enhancements. Both the lander and rover have a mission life of one lunar day, which is approximately 14 Earth days.
Chandrayaan-3 arrives over 14 years after India's first lunar mission in 2008, which discovered traces of water molecules in the lunar atmosphere. While the Chandrayaan-2 lander-rover experienced a mishap during landing, its orbiter continues to study the moon from orbit. The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter has played an instrumental role in identifying the optimal landing site for Chandrayaan-3 and facilitating communication between Earth and the lander.
With a growing interest in space exploration, India has leveraged over a hundred space tech startups to make remarkable strides in launch vehicles, satellites, and earth imaging technology. The recent introduction of a space policy in New Delhi encourages collaboration between private entities and government institutions in the field of space exploration.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized the collective significance of India's achievement: "India’s successful moon mission is not just India’s alone… This success belongs to all of humanity, and it will help moon missions by other countries in the future."
Beyond Chandrayaan-3, ISRO continues its ambitious agenda with missions such as the Gaganyaan human space flight and the Aditya L1 solar observatory project. By signing NASA's Artemis Accords, India cements its commitment to international collaboration in space exploration. Through partnerships with NASA and other organizations, India's contributions to space science and research are set to flourish in the years ahead.