India has achieved an extraordinary milestone by becoming the first country to successfully land a spacecraft near the moon’s south pole. This historic moment was met with exuberant cheers at gatherings across the nation, signifying a significant breakthrough for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
The Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft’s Vikram lander touched down near the lunar south pole, marking a world-first accomplishment for any space program. As the chair of ISRO, Sreedhara Panicker Somanath, jubilantly stated, “India is on the moon.”
This successful lunar landing not only propels India into the league of spacefaring nations but also underscores the government’s efforts to foster investments in private space launches and satellite-based businesses.
Throughout the country, people were glued to their television screens, witnessing the spacecraft’s approach to a region believed to harbor crucial reserves of frozen water and precious elements. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was in South Africa attending the Brics summit, proudly declared, “This is a victory cry of a new India. We are witnessing history.”
In the days leading up to the scheduled descent, a palpable mix of nervousness and excitement gripped Indians. Temples and mosques conducted special prayers for a safe landing, and on the banks of the River Ganges in Varanasi, Hindu monks bestowed blessings on the mission, blowing conch shells in reverence.
At street celebrations, Indians reveled in their dual triumph: being the first to land at the moon’s south pole and the fourth nation to land on the moon overall.
In the crucial minutes before touchdown, the lander executed a complex maneuver, decelerating from 3,730 miles per hour to nearly zero and transitioning from a horizontal to a vertical position. The precision of this final maneuver was paramount; too much force could lead to toppling, while too little force could result in an incorrect landing site.
Recalling India’s previous moon mission in 2019, it was the failure of this final maneuver that led to a disastrous outcome when the lander failed to reposition and instead hurtled towards the lunar surface.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission, translating to “moon craft” in Sanskrit, embarked on its journey from Sriharikota, southern India, on July 14th. Unlike the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 70s, which reached the moon in a matter of days, Chandrayaan-3 took a longer route, employing less powerful rockets. It circled Earth multiple times to gain speed before embarking on its month-long trajectory to the moon.
Assuming all goes according to plan, a rover named Pragyaan, meaning “wisdom” in Sanskrit, will descend from the lander and explore the lunar surface for two weeks. Its tasks include capturing images, conducting geological experiments, studying Earth’s origins, and assessing the presence of water ice.
The discovery of substantial water ice could hold the key to future crewed missions, as it could be used for extracting oxygen and fuel. Many scientists believe that the lunar south pole, rich in craters and trenches but hidden from Earth’s view, could be an ideal site for a future lunar base.
India’s successful landing comes shortly after Russia’s failed lunar mission to the south pole, where its Luna-25 spacecraft spiraled out of control and crashed. India’s accomplishment cements its status as a space powerhouse and aligns with Prime Minister Modi’s vision of an ascendant India asserting itself on the global stage.
With India’s economy ranking fifth in the world and general elections looming on the horizon, this achievement enhances Modi’s popularity and emphasizes India’s position among the global elite. As the world watches China reach new milestones in space, including plans for lunar astronaut missions, India’s prowess in space exploration stands as a testament to its technological advancements and aspirations for the future.