In a defining moment for India’s space exploration, the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft executed a flawless landing near the moon’s south pole on August 23, making India the fourth nation, following the U.S., Soviet Union, and China, to achieve this lunar milestone.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) confirmed the touchdown at 6:03 p.m. IST, with Chairman Sreedhara Somanath exclaiming, “India is on the moon!” A sentiment echoed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who stated that this feat was not just India’s but a contribution to global space exploration, emphasizing that every nation holds the potential to reach for the stars.
Awaiting deployment is Chandrayaan-3’s solar-powered rover, Pragyan, named after the Sanskrit term for “wisdom”. Set to embark from its companion, the Vikram lander, Pragyan is designed to spend about 14 Earth days gathering vital data on the moon before the harsh lunar night takes its toll on its battery.
With this mission, India revisits its dream of exploring the moon’s south pole, a region believed to be rich in water ice – a potential resource for future space endeavors. A previous attempt with Chandrayaan-2 in 2019 was marred by a software malfunction causing a crash. However, bolstered by significant design upgrades and invaluable data from Chandrayaan-2’s orbiter, the Chandrayaan-3 journey began with a successful launch on July 14.
After intricate orbital maneuvers, the Vikram-Pragyan pair decoupled from the main spacecraft, preparing for their descent. These preparations included establishing communication with Chandrayaan-2’s orbiter, which will relay data between the rover and Earth.
Come landing day, ISRO’s command center in Bengaluru held its collective breath. With automated systems handling the descent, Vikram made a successful landing near the target location, closely mirroring the site where Russia’s Luna-25 was intended to land earlier this week. Unfortunately for the Russians, their mission met a tragic fate.
Anil Bhardwaj, the director of the Physical Research Laboratory in India, shared that critical enhancements to Chandrayaan-3’s landing protocols, coupled with a better understanding of the landing terrain provided by earlier missions, contributed immensely to this mission’s success.
As Vikram settles on the moon, it’s equipped to detect moonquakes and measure lunar soil temperature. Meanwhile, Pragyan, bearing symbolic etchings of the Ashoka Chakra and ISRO’s emblem on its wheels, will soon begin its analyses. With every roll, it will imprint these symbols onto the moon’s surface, leaving an everlasting mark of India’s space ambition.
With a modest budget of $73 million USD, the success of Chandrayaan-3 comes at an exciting time for lunar exploration. With nations like the U.S. and China planning manned missions, and NASA’s Artemis 3 mission slated for 2025 or 2026, the moon remains a central focus of space exploration.
For India, this successful mission is not just a landmark in space research but a beacon for future aspirations. Bhardwaj rightly believes it will inspire the younger generation, underscoring its significance for national pride, strategy, and global positioning. He summed up the prevailing sentiment: “Our job starts after landing.”