In a historic first, India successfully landed a spacecraft on the moon’s south pole, a feat that the project director described as “flawless” at a press conference on Aug. 23.
The accomplishment comes just days after a similar Russian lander crashed into the moon.
India’s Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft landed on the rugged, unexplored south pole of the moon in a mission seen as critical to lunar exploration and India’s standing as a space power.
The craft is expected to remain operational for the next two weeks, during which time it will conduct experiments including a spectrometer analysis of the mineral composition of the lunar surface.
Sreedhara Somanath, chief of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), told reporters that the craft will deploy a rover over the next few days, adding that the landing has given India confidence to take on the more ambitious goals of possibly reaching as far out into the solar system as Venus or Mars.
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India is now the fourth country to successfully land on the moon, an exclusive list that includes the United States, Russia (then the Soviet Union), and China.
“This success belongs to all of humanity and it will help moon missions by other countries in the future,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a speech following the landing. “I’m confident that all countries in the world, including those from the global south, are capable of capturing success. We can all aspire to the moon and beyond.”
The touchdown occurred at 8:33 am ET (1233 GMT or 6:03 p.m. India Standard Time) according to the ISRO.
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‘India is on the moon!’
“We have achieved soft landing on the moon! India is on the moon!” Somanath exclaimed following the historic feat.
The solar-powered rover, named “Pragyan,” which is Sanskrit for “wisdom,” will spend one lunar day, approximately 14 Earth days, exploring the lunar surface with the goal of collecting data about the moon’s makeup before eventually running out of power.
Anil Bhardwaj, director of the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) in India, which was responsible for the manufacturing of some of the instruments on the lander, told Space.com, “The whole country is excited about this mission. We all hope that we will be successful in … bringing out new science from this mission.”
This was India’s second attempt at landing on the moon’s south pole. The country’s first attempt was in September 2019 when the Chandrayaan-2 lander crashed into the lunar surface following a software glitch.
Close to four years later, following a number of design and software upgrades, India’s Chandrayaan-3 was launched on top of a LVM3 rocket on July 14 from India’s spaceport in Sriharikota.
Earlier this month, the spacecraft entered an elliptical orbit around the moon then performed manoeuvres to shift into a nearly circular path, approximately 93 miles above the lunar surface.
The area where the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft landed is suspected to be home to large amounts of water ice, which if accessible, could be mined for rocket fuel and life support for future manned missions.
Reuters contributed to this report.