India makes history by landing Chandrayaan-3 on the moon

23 Aug 2023

Chandrayaan-3 launch. Image: ISRO

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said the mission’s success ‘belongs to all of humanity’ and will help future moon missions from across the world.

A rapturous roar of applause tore out at the headquarters of the Indian space agency in Bengaluru today (23 August) as India became the first country to successfully land a spacecraft – the Chandrayaan-3 – on the south pole of the moon.

Launched on 14 July, Chandrayaan-3 is India’s third attempt at landing a spacecraft on the moon. The spacecraft will study the unexplored parts of the moon in search of frozen water, among other things, that can one day prove crucial for astronauts to survive on the surface.

Named after the Sanskrit word for “moon craft”, Chandrayaan-3 was made entirely in India by scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in the hopes to perform the first-ever soft-landing on the south pole of the moon.

This landing comes just two days after Russia’s Luna-25 mission, which was attempting to land in the same region as India, crashed into the lunar surface after running into difficulties. It was the first lunar mission Russia has launched since 1976, during the time of the Soviet Union.

“India’s success is not India’s alone,” prime minister Narendra Modi told scientists at ISRO over a video call from his state visit to South Africa for a conference. “This success belongs to all of humanity and will help future moon missions – especially from the Global South.”

The previous Chandrayaan-2 mission was launched almost exactly four years ago to explore water deposits that were confirmed by a previous mission, the Chandrayaan-1, which made headlines and orbited the moon before malfunctioning a year later.

Unfortunately, the Chandrayaan-2 was not as successful as its predecessor as it deviated from its intended trajectory and crashed on the lunar surface in September 2019. According to ISRO, the crash was caused by a software glitch.

Other than being the first to land on the south pole, India also becomes the second country after China to successfully land a rover on the moon in this century.

Other countries are also looking at the moon’s south pole as an attractive site for their lunar ambitions. NASA is planning to send astronauts to the south pole of the moon by 2025 and to use the moon’s natural resources in preparation for missions to Mars.

Modi said the landing is even more symbolic as it comes in the same year as India’s presidency of the G20 forum. “This is a story of how to win by learning from defeat,” he added.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic