In July, just as India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission was gearing up for its historic journey to the Moon, an unexpected delay momentarily paused the countdown. This wasn’t a technical glitch or a weather concern; rather, it was about ensuring the spacecraft’s safe passage through space cluttered with objects.
The scene was set for an iconic launch. Spectators and experts worldwide waited with bated breath for the liftoff of Chandrayaan-3, a significant step in India’s space exploration journey. However, just before the scheduled takeoff, the team at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) realized they had to delay the event by a few seconds.
During a gathering at the 74th International Astronautical Congress in Baku, Azerbaijan, Anil Kumar, the head of safe and sustainable space operations at ISRO, shared the backstory. He mentioned that the scheduled launch time of Chandrayaan-3 was adjusted after careful examination of the orbits of various space objects. The aim? To ensure the lunar mission didn’t run the risk of colliding with any of them during its first orbital phase. Kumar pointed out that some of these objects came dangerously close – within a mere kilometer (or 0.6 miles) of the mission’s projected path.
Kumar emphasized the importance of such safety measures, advocating for them to be a mandatory aspect of any space launch. In a universe where human-made satellites, debris, and other objects are ever-increasing, this precaution is essential. A fact worth noting is the U.S. Space Command’s revelation from the previous year – they were actively monitoring over 47,000 objects in space.
After its brief delay, Chandrayaan-3 soared into space and etched its mark in history by successfully landing on the Moon on August 23. This remarkable accomplishment positioned India among an elite group of nations – the Soviet Union, the U.S., and China – that have managed a soft lunar landing.
However, as lunar days are different from Earth days, the Chandrayaan-3 had a short operational window. By September 3, both the mission’s rover and lander transitioned into a sleep mode, in alignment with the end of a lunar day (equivalent to about 14 Earth days). Although attempts to wake the rover from its dormant state haven’t been fruitful yet, the mission is already deemed successful. The evidence lies in the valuable data collected during its active days, including the discovery of sulfur traces and other chemical elements at the Moon’s south pole. Moreover, Chandrayaan-3 shed light on the temperature profile of an area that had remained uncharted until then.
While the brief pause in Chandrayaan-3’s launch might have raised a few eyebrows initially, it underscored the importance of safety in the growing complexity of space exploration. As the world celebrated the mission’s successes, it was a subtle reminder that in the vastness of space, every second counts.