India's Chandrayaan-3 makes successful landing on the moon

Chandrayaan-3, the latest iteration of India's ambitious mission to the moon, has successfully landed on the lunar surface — making history after its predecessor failed in 2019.

The landing, which took place at the targeted time of 5:34 am PT (6:04 pm IST) on Wednesday over a month after the spacecraft's launch, has made India the fourth nation globally to make a soft landing on the moon, after the former Soviet Union, the U.S. and China, and the first country to land on the lunar south pole, which remains an unexplored area that is anticipated to aid in the understanding of the moon's atmosphere and pave the way for future space exploration programs.

Earlier this month, Russia attempted to take the achievement from India by launching Luna-25, which was due to make a soft landing on the south pole before India's Chandrayaan-3. However, the Russian spacecraft crashed into the moon on Saturday after losing contact with Roscosmos, the country's space agency.

India's space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), launched the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft through its "Launch Vehicle Mark-III" vehicle on July 14. The launch happened from Satish Dhawan Space Centre on South India's Sriharikota island.

"Chandrayaan-3 is a result of the work done by thousands of scientists, engineers, our staff and industries and support teams across ISRO and other places, other institutions," said ISRO chairman S. Somanath while addressing the audience at the space agency's mission operation complex in Bengaluru after the successful landing.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson also congratulated ISRO on the successful moon landing of Chandrayaan-3 through his post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. "We're glad to be your partner on this mission!" he wrote.

Chandrayaan-3, the third version of India's Chandrayaan mission ("moon vehicle" in Sanskrit), aims to demonstrate safe landing and roving on the moon's surface and conduct on-site scientific experiments. The spacecraft, developed with a budget of less than $75 million, comprises a propulsion module, lander and a rover that collectively carry seven scientific instruments.

To overcome the problems encountered by its predecessor, the lander on the Chandrayaan-3 mission includes improved sensors, software and propulsion systems. ISRO also carried out a number of simulations and additional testing to ensure a higher degree of ruggedness in the lander to achieve a successful landing.

The lander will conduct experiments on seismic vibrations, near-surface plasma, lunar temperature, thermal conductivity, elemental composition and spectral signatures of Earth.

The U.S. is preparing to launch a crew mission to the lunar south pole, called Artemis III, as soon as 2025. The insights gained from the Chandrayaan-3 mission in India will aid in comprehending the surface before the human landing.

Unlike the lander, the rover of the Chandrayaan-3 is identical to that of the Chandrayaan-2. The mission life of the lander and rover will be of one lunar sunrise to sunset — equivalent to about 14 days on Earth.

Chandrayaan-3 comes more than 14 years after India launched its first moon landing mission in 2008, which found evidence of water molecules in the lunar atmosphere.

Although the lander-rover of Chandrayaan-2 crashed during touchdown, its orbiter is still in orbit and continuing its study of the moon. The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter was instrumental in locating the landing spot for the Chandrayaan-3 lander and will continue to assist in sending signals to Earth for communication with the lander.

"Of course, this is not the work of us alone. This is the work of a generation of ISRO leadership and ISRO scientists. And this is a journey we started with Chandrayaan-1 and continued with Chandrayaan-2, and Chandrayaan-2 craft is still working and doing a lot of communication work with us. And all the teams that contributed to building Chandrayaan-1 and Chandrayaan-2 should be remembered and thanked while we celebrate Chandrayaan-3," Somanath said.

Over the past few years, India has developed a strong interest in space exploration. With the help of over 100 space tech startups, the South Asian nation has made significant progress in developing solutions such as launch vehicles, satellites and hyperspectral earth imaging. New Delhi recently introduced a space policy to facilitate collaboration between private players and government bodies.

"India's successful moon mission is not just India's alone," said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "Our approach of one Earth, one family, one future is resonating across the globe. This human-centric approach that we present and that we represent has been welcomed universally. Our moon mission is also based on the same human-centric approach. Therefore, this success belongs to all of humanity, and it will help moon missions by other countries in the future. I'm confident that all countries in the world, including those from the global south, are capable of achieving such feats. We can all aspire for the moon and beyond."

ISRO has also been working on a list of missions other than Chandrayaan-3. These include the long-planned human space flight mission Gaganyaan and the solar observatory project Aditya L1 to probe the sun.

"We applaud ISRO on the successful landing of the Chandrayaan-3, which shows India's strong spirit of space exploration and our prowess in the space domain," said Lt. Gen. AK Bhatt, director of industry body Indian Space Association, in a prepared statement. "This signifies these moon landings will also further propel our actions towards creating a flourishing lunar economy and will encourage broader celestial exploration from Mars and beyond. An important step forward in space exploration and commercialization will be with the inclusion of more private players and our growing space-tech startups in the future missions to make India a leader in the global space economy."

In June, India signed NASA's Artemis Accords to partner with participating nations on space exploration. NASA is also set to provide advanced training to Indian astronauts at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and send them to the International Space Station next year. Further, ISRO and NASA are also working closely to launch a low-Earth orbit observatory in 2024 to map the entire planet in 12 days and offer consistent data for analyzing alterations in Earth's ecosystems, ice mass, vegetation biomass, sea level, and natural disasters and hazards.