New Delhi: After a journey through space of a month and nine days, India’s Chandrayaan-3 succeeded in its primary mission of achieving a historic soft landing in the Moon’s south pole region at 6:03 pm on Wednesday, August 23. Chandrayaan-3’s successful soft landing makes India only the fourth country to do so on the Moon’s surface and the first to do so near its south pole.
The mission was launched on July 14 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh’s Sriharikota.
The lander has established a communication link with ISRO and sent images that were taken from the Lander Horizontal Velocity Camera during the descent.
The communication link is established between the Ch-3 Lander and MOX-ISTRAC, Bengaluru.
— ISRO (@isro) August 23, 2023
The Chandrayaan programme for lunar exploration was first announced by Atal Bihari Vajpayee as prime minister in 2003. Chandrayaan-1 was launched in 2008 – and successfully completed its mission of crash landing a probe on the Moon’s surface – when Manmohan Singh was prime minister. The Manmohan Singh government’s plans for Chandrayaan-2 got delayed because of Russia’s inability to provide a lander in time so the project was recast to envisage India building the lander on its own. When launched eventually in 2019, Chandrayaan-2 was unable to make the planned soft landing – a task ISRO achieved with Chandrayaan-3.
Chandrayaan-3 has several improvements from its predecessor. ISRO has increased the intended landing zone to 4.2 km long and 2.5 km wide, meaning the spacecraft has a higher margin of error. Chandrayaan-3 also has four engines with adjustable throttle and orientation and a Laser Doppler Velocimeter to control its altitude and orientation in all phases of descent.
The Vikram lander itself has more sensitive instruments than those on the lunar surface.
Apart from the rover, Chandrayaan-3 also has scientific payload like the Spectro-polarimetry of Habitable Planet Earth (SHAPE), which will study the spectral and polarimetric measurements of Earth from the lunar orbit. The mission will also insert a thermal probe 10 cm into the lunar surface to measure the temperature gradient. This will help improve the knowledge of stability zones for resources like frozen water.
The Vikram lander’s six-wheeled lunar rover, called Pragyan, is carrying two payloads: an Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer and a Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscope to measure the composition of lunar rocks and soil.
While these instruments were used by the China National Space Administration on its Yutu rovers on the lunar surface, Pragyan will explore new regions.
Modi addresses scientists after landing
While there is already considerable public interest in the impending landing, with wall-to-wall media coverage, the Union government is going the extra mile to ensure a captive audience for an event that is being seen by it as a great PR and political opportunity – with BJP leaders describing the mission as “one more achievement for the country under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
While Prime Minister Modi is in Johannesburg to attend the BRICS summit, he joined ISRO’s mission centre via live streaming to witness the landing. He also addressed the scientists after the soft landing was achieved, saying the moment represents “New India’s new flight”.
Modi said that though he was in South Africa, like all Indians, his “heart was with this Chandrayaan venture”. He added, “With my whole heart I thank ISRO and its scientists, who for years put in their hard work towards this result.”
The prime minister said the success of the mission belongs not only to Indians but to all humanity. He said the mission will help future moon missions, saying, “We can all aspire to the Moon and beyond.”
A live telecast of Chandrayaan-3’s movements began at 5:27 pm on Wednesday on Doordarshan, ISRO’s website, and its Facebook and YouTube pages. All government universities were asked to hold special assemblies at 5:30 pm, where students and faculty could watch the live telecast and “get an opportunity to witness this momentous occasion”.
Space agencies react
ISRO’s achievement was praised by space agencies around the world. Josepf Aschbacher, head of the European Space Agency, called it a historic landing. Noting that the ESA had played a ‘supporting role’, he said, Europe needs to “become protagonists in future Moon exploration for the benefit, both economical and scientific, of Europeans for generations to come.”
Today @ISRO made a historic landing on the south pole of the Moon, the first of its kind. ESA had a supporting role in this historic moment and for this, all Europeans should be proud. But we can’t stop here: we must take the next big step for Europe and become protagonists in… https://t.co/PEDs6GVcap
— Josef Aschbacher (@AschbacherJosef) August 23, 2023
NASA administrator Bill Nelson also congratulated ISRO but also advertised the fact that it was a ‘partner on this mission’.
Congratulations @isro on your successful Chandrayaan-3 lunar South Pole landing! And congratulations to #India on being the 4th country to successfully soft-land a spacecraft on the Moon. We’re glad to be your partner on this mission! https://t.co/UJArS7gsTv
— Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) August 23, 2023