Giant leap for India: Wins vital race to moon

Chandrayaan-3 was launched on 14 July using Isro’s LMV3 rocket. (AP)
Chandrayaan-3 was launched on 14 July using Isro’s LMV3 rocket. (AP)


  • Mint looks at the unprecedented success of Isro and what it means for India’s space programme

India created history when it became the first country to land a craft in the lunar south pole, beating other space faring nations. Mint looks at the unprecedented success of the Indian Space Research Organization (Isro) and what it means for India’s space programme.

What did India just achieve?

Chandrayaan-3 created history at 6.04 pm on 23 August when its lander, called Vikram, safely touched down on the lunar surface. India thus became only the fourth nation in the world, after the US, the former Soviet Union and China, to soft land an object on the moon (and the first to do so on the far side of earth’s natural satellite). Chandrayaan-3 was launched on 14 July using Isro’s LMV3 rocket. The objective: to demonstrate soft landing and roving capabilities on the lunar surface. Besides, at 650 crore, the mission cost less than that other scientific hit—Oppenheimer ( 820 crore).

What’s next for this mission?

Vikram lander carries a rover, named Pragyan, which will move around and conduct chemical analyses of the surface of the moon near the landing site. The lander also carries payloads to study thermal conductivity, measure lunar seismic activity and estimate plasma density, among other activities. The experiments by Pragyan will be carried out over one lunar day (equivalent to 14 earth days). The propulsion module which brought the spacecraft from its injected orbit to within 100 kilometres of the moon also has a scientific payload. This will look for exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system.

Graphic: Mint
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Graphic: Mint

How did Isro overcome its previous failure?

In September 2019 Chandrayaan-2 failed, in the last moments, to soft land the lander on the moon. Chandrayaan-3 is a follow-up with same mission objective and architecture. Isro scientists spent four years analyzing and rectifying errors. The lander’s engine configuration was changed. It was made sturdier and carried more fuel for any contingency.

What next for India’s lunar programme?

Isro has ambitious lunar plans. It wants to send a mission that will survive a lunar night (again, 14 earth days) without solar power. It wants to drill the moon and test the sample on site to start with, and eventually bring the samples back home to earth. A race has begun among space powers to explore the moon. China wants to set up a base there by 2030 and the US has announced the Artemis programme to put a man on the moon again by 2025. However, Russia’s recent attempt to soft land on the moon failed.

How does this boost India’s space plans?

Chandrayaan is designed to develop technologies needed for inter-planetary missions. Isro can now plan more such missions. Space powers are also looking at mining the moon for resources such as helium and rare metals that are desperately needed. India can now think on similar lines and also look for signs of water. India’s space programme has come a long way since 15 August 2003 when prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee announced Chandrayaan saying India was “ready to fly high in the field of science".


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