India has become only the fourth country to successfully land an intact craft on the moon as its Chandrayaan-3 mission successfully touched down near the lunar south pole today at 12:32 GMT. It has also become the first nation to explore the potentially water-rich polar region.
The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO’s) Chandrayaan-3, which takes its name from the Sanskrit word for “mooncraft”, took off onboard a Launch Vehicle Mark-III rocket from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh on 14 July and spent six weeks covering about 380,000 kilometres en route to the moon.
ISRO said in a tweet that the landing had taken place 40 days, 3 hours and 29 minutes after launch.
The mission placed the Vikram lander at a spot with water reserves, which could help make a permanent lunar base possible.
Chandrayaan-3 slowed itself while in orbit before briefly hovering stationary at 150 metres above the surface. It then made a slow vertical descent to a successful landing. The prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, spoke remotely to mission control and said “India is now on the moon”.
“Friends, on this joyous occasion, I would like to address all the people of the world, the people of every country and region,” said Modi. “India’s successful moon mission is not just India’s alone. This success belongs to all of humanity, and it will help moon missions of other countries in the future. I’m confident that all countries of the world, including those from the Global South, are capable of achieving such feats. We can all aspire to the moon and beyond.”
Shri M. Sankaran, director of ISRO’s U R Rao Satellite Centre, said: “Today, we have achieved what we set out to achieve in 2019. It was delayed by about four years, but we have done it.” He said India will now be looking to put a human into space and send a craft to Mars.
The preceding Chandrayaan-2 mission ended in failure in 2019 when a software glitch caused its Vikram lander to crash into the moon’s surface. It was destroyed, along with the six-wheeled rover it contained, named Pragyan, that would have explored the moon’s south pole.
The earlier Chandrayaan-1 mission consisted of a lunar orbiter and a probe designed to deliberately hit the moon at speed, again targeting the south pole. India’s latest mission is designed to land softly and carry out scientific research.
I reached my destination
and you too!’
Chandrayaan-3 has successfully
soft-landed on the moon 🌖!.
— ISRO (@isro) August 23, 2023
Chandrayaan-3 is a repeat of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, but with no orbiter. Instead, the Vikram lander and rover handle their own communications with Earth without the need for an intermediary satellite. Once released, the rover is expected to last just two weeks in the harsh lunar environment.
Previously, only the US, the USSR and China had successfully landed lunar missions intact. A private attempt by a Japanese start-up in April ended unsuccessfully when it, too, crashed into the surface at speed. Russia’s latest attempt at lunar exploration – its first moon mission in nearly half a century – also ended in disaster earlier this week.
The Luna 25 lander was due to touch down gently but instead slammed into the surface at speed after what was intended to be a short engine firing to reposition it seemingly continued for too long, causing it to “cease to exist”, the Russian space agency Roscosmos announced.