India becomes first country to land at the south pole of the Moon

Journalists film the live telecast of spacecraft Chandrayaan-3 landing on the moon at ISRO's Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network facility in Bengaluru, India, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. India lands a spacecraft near the moon’s south pole, becoming the fourth country to touch down on the lunar surface. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

India has achieved a groundbreaking milestone in space exploration, marking history on multiple fronts. The Vikram lander of the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft has accomplished a successful lunar landing, signifying India’s inaugural achievement in landing on the moon’s surface. This accomplishment places India in the distinguished company of the Soviet Union, the US, and China, as only the fourth nation to achieve this feat. Moreover, India’s achievement holds unique significance as it marks the first successful landing near the Moon’s south pole—a challenging objective due to the rugged terrain and a critical pursuit for locating water ice, unlike previous landings that occurred near the equator.

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This triumphant landing comes after four years since the Vikram lander of Chandrayaan-2 faced an unfortunate crash. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) approached Chandrayaan-3 with a “failure-based design,” incorporating additional backup systems, an expanded landing area, and software enhancements to ensure success.

Following the landing, Vikram will remain dormant for several hours, allowing lunar dust to settle. Subsequently, the Pragyaan rover will be deployed to capture images and gather scientific data. The combined capabilities of the lander and rover encompass five instruments intended to analyse the Moon’s atmosphere, surface properties, and tectonic behaviour. ISRO strategically timed the landing to coincide with the commencement of a lunar day—equivalent to approximately 28 Earth days—to maximize solar power availability for both Vikram and Pragyaan.

The success of Chandrayaan-3 stands as a source of national pride for India, reflecting the nation’s aspirations to emerge as a significant force in space exploration. With ambitions to launch a space station by 2030, India has solidified its position among the select few countries that have successfully reached extraterrestrial surfaces. The insights gained from this mission’s focus on the lunar pole hold immense value for upcoming lunar endeavours not only by India but also by other nations. The potential discovery of ice could serve as a vital resource for fuel, oxygen, and water in future lunar missions.

This achievement also propels India ahead in the race to lunar exploration, placing it ahead of other nations in terms of timing if not always as the initial achiever. With recent lunar landing attempts by Russia, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates, and the US preparing for its Artemis 3 mission, India has positioned itself at the forefront of renewed interest in lunar exploration—a testament to its growing prowess in space technology.