In a remarkable achievement, the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft gracefully touched down near the moon’s south pole on August 23rd, marking a significant milestone for India.
This feat makes India the fourth country, after the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China, to achieve a lunar landing.
The historic touchdown occurred precisely at 8:33 am ET (1233 GMT or 6:03 p.m. India Standard Time), as confirmed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
A jubilant Sreedhara Somanath, the chairman of ISRO, announced, “We have achieved a soft landing on the moon! India is now on the moon!”
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Following this achievement, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a speech expressing, “This success is not just for us but for all of humanity. It will pave the way for future moon missions by other nations. All countries, regardless of their background, can aspire to reach for the moon and beyond.”
In the coming days, an autonomous solar-powered rover named Pragyan, meaning “wisdom” in Sanskrit, is scheduled to disembark from Chandrayaan-3’s lander named Vikram, which stands for “valor.”
This robotic pair is set to explore their new lunar home for about 14 Earth days (one lunar day), gathering essential scientific data about the moon’s composition before their batteries deplete following sunset.
Anil Bhardwaj, the director of the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in India, which contributed to building some of Chandrayaan-3’s instruments, enthusiastically mentioned, “The entire nation is abuzz with excitement about this mission.
We are optimistic about deriving novel scientific insights from this endeavor.”
Chandrayaan-3 marked India’s second attempt at landing near the moon’s south pole, a region of immense curiosity for both scientists and exploration enthusiasts.
This area is believed to contain substantial water ice reserves, potentially invaluable for generating rocket fuel and supporting future crewed missions. India’s initial lunar landing effort, in September 2019, faced failure when the Chandrayaan-2 lander crashed due to a software glitch.
After nearly four years of meticulous design adjustments and software enhancements, Chandrayaan-3, a product of India’s own ingenuity, launched on July 14 atop an LVM3 rocket from Sriharikota, India’s east coast spaceport.
After entering an elliptical orbit around the moon, the spacecraft underwent several maneuvers to achieve a nearly circular path, positioning it around 93 miles (150 kilometers) above the moon’s surface.
On August 17th, the Vikram-Pragyan duo separated from the propulsion module of the mission, which will continue to orbit the moon while studying Earth.
The lander and rover then successfully adjusted their orbits to approach the moon’s surface, culminating in a historic landing.
During the final approach on August 23rd, the lander initiated its descent to the lunar surface using an automated landing system as the sun rose over the designated landing site. The momentous landing event was broadcast live by ISRO and the Indian public broadcaster Doordarshan.
At approximately 8:34 a.m. EDT (1234 GMT and 18:04 India time), the Vikram lander gently touched down at approximately 70 degrees south latitude, a location near the intended Luna-25 landing site of Russia’s recent moon mission. The Russian endeavor faced failure due to a final orbital maneuver mishap.
India’s achievement can be attributed to comprehensive changes made to the landing strategy following the Chandrayaan-2 mishap in 2019.
Crucial onboard algorithms were revamped to allow the spacecraft more flexibility during descent while ensuring a successful landing.
Additional improvements encompassed a larger designated landing area, reinforced landing legs for enduring higher speeds, and dynamic engines for a smoother touchdown.
Images of the moon’s surface sent by Chandrayaan-2’s orbiter since 2019 provided clearer insights into the landing site, aiding the mission’s planning and execution. With this new information, the landing zone was considered navigable.
Having successfully landed, the Vikram lander now houses a seismometer to detect moonquakes near its location, while the Pragyan rover is poised to start examining lunar soil and rocks.
Pragyan’s wheels, akin to its predecessor on Chandrayaan-2, bear the Ashoka Chakra, a religious symbol depicted on the Indian flag, and ISRO’s logo. This unique marking is anticipated to leave an enduring impression on the moon’s surface.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission, budgeted at a modest 6 billion rupees (approximately $73 million US), is unfolding at a juncture when various nations, especially the U.S. and China, are actively eyeing the moon for future crewed missions.
This achievement holds the potential to accelerate India’s space program, propelling it toward even greater accomplishments.
Bhardwaj expressed, “This is a transformative moment for the new generation. The success holds strategic and geopolitical significance for our nation, encouraging our youth to pursue uniqueness.”
As the sun sets on the landing site in a couple of weeks, the Vikram lander and Pragyan rover will face a challenging cold night, which could critically drain their batteries.
In the meantime, Bhardwaj’s team is poised for an active two weeks of operations as they embark on the next phase of their mission.