Just four days after Russia’s Luna-25 moon probe experienced an unfortunate crash landing, India’s well-equipped Chandrayaan-3 robotic lander executed a maneuver from orbit into a rocket-powered descent, flawlessly establishing contact with the lunar surface near the southern pole of the moon.
This automated landing has catapulted India’s progressively advancing space program into the league of “space superpowers,” cementing its status as the fourth nation, following the United States, China, and the former Soviet Union, to successfully execute a spacecraft landing on the moon. Additionally, India holds the distinction of being the pioneer in reaching the moon’s southern polar region.
Operating within an elliptical orbit that encircles the moon, with a peak altitude of 83 miles and a nadir of merely 15.5 miles, Chandrayaan-3’s braking engines initiated their action at approximately 8:15 a.m. EDT when the craft was situated around 18 miles above the lunar surface. This marked the initiation of its powered descent phase.
Descending to an altitude of roughly 4.5 miles while decelerating from 3,758 mph to approximately 800 mph, the spacecraft briefly paused its descent for approximately 10 seconds to impeccably align itself with the designated landing spot.
Following this precise alignment, the controlled descent, meticulously monitored by the onboard computer system, continued until the lander achieved a successful touchdown. Throughout this process, the spacecraft transmitted a continuous stream of images illustrating its approach to the lunar surface. As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi observed via a television link, the spacecraft gently touched down around 8:33 a.m.
Within the Indian Space Research Organization’s control center, an exultant eruption of cheers and applause resonated among engineers, mission managers, dignitaries, and guests.
“We have successfully achieved a soft landing on the moon,” announced ISRO Chairman Shri Somanath. “Yes, on the moon!”
Modi then addressed the ISRO team, predominantly speaking in Hindi but incorporating English as well, stating, “India has now set foot on the moon!”
He went on, “This achievement is not limited to our nation; it belongs to all of humanity. It will also contribute to lunar missions undertaken by other nations in the future. I am confident that countries all around the world… can aspire to explore not only the moon but also the realms beyond. There are no limits to the sky!”
The captivating landing of Chandrayaan-3, streamed live on YouTube and the Indian space agency’s website, marked the culmination of a determined four-year endeavor to recover from a software malfunction that led to the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft’s unfortunate crash just moments before its planned touchdown in 2019.
Initially, there was speculation that Russia might share a portion of India’s spotlight with its scheduled landing of the Luna-25 probe on Monday, Russia’s initial attempt at lunar landing in nearly fifty years. However, an unfortunate thruster firing incident occurred over the weekend, resulting in the Russian federal space agency, Roscosmos, reporting the spacecraft’s “demise” due to a “collision with the lunar surface.”
In contrast, Chandrayaan-3’s orbital maneuvers went off without a hitch, positioning it for a touchdown precisely aligned with the lunar dawn at the intended landing site. Crafted to operate throughout a complete two-week lunar “day,” Chandrayaan-3 is composed of the solar-powered Vikram lander and an 83-pound six-wheel rover named Pragyan, nestled within the lander during its journey.
The lander boasts an array of instruments dedicated to measuring temperature, thermal conductivity, seismic activity, and the plasma environment. It also incorporates a NASA laser reflector array to accurately measure the moon’s distance from Earth.
The rover, furnished with its own solar array and designed to roll onto the surface from the lander, carries a variety of instruments, including two spectrometers that facilitate the determination of the elemental composition of lunar rocks and soil at the landing site.
While scientific inquiry remains a significant objective, the primary mission of Chandrayaan-3 is to showcase the capabilities of soft landing and rover technologies, serving as crucial stepping stones for future ambitious missions to more distant destinations in deep space.
In response, the Russian space agency conveyed its felicitations to its Indian counterparts via a message on Telegram: “Roscosmos State Corporation extends its warm congratulations to our Indian colleagues on the triumphant landing of the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft. Lunar exploration holds global significance and has the potential to serve as a launching pad for extensive space exploration in the years to come.”