India Achieves Historic First: Successfully Lands Spacecraft Near Moon’s South Pole

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India has made history by becoming the first country to land a spacecraft near the Moon’s south pole. This remarkable feat is a significant milestone for the world’s most populous nation and its cost-effective space program.

At 6:04 pm India time (1234 GMT), the unmanned Chandrayaan-3, which literally translates to “Mooncraft” in Sanskrit, touched down. As mission control technicians exuberantly celebrated and embraced one another, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared on a live broadcast, waving an Indian flag to announce the mission’s success. He emphasized that India’s triumph should be celebrated by people worldwide, as it is a success for all of humanity.

The Chandrayaan-3 mission has captured the attention of the public since it launched nearly six weeks ago, attracting thousands of enthusiastic spectators. Politicians even organized Hindu prayer rituals to wish for the mission’s success, and schoolchildren eagerly followed the final moments of the landing from live broadcasts in their classrooms.

Unlike the Apollo missions in the 1960s and 1970s, which took only a few days to reach the Moon, Chandrayaan-3 took significantly longer. This is because India used less powerful rockets, necessitating multiple orbits of the Earth to gain the required speed for its month-long journey. Last week, the lander named Vikram, meaning “valour” in Sanskrit, detached from its propulsion module and has been capturing and transmitting images of the Moon’s surface since entering lunar orbit on August 5.

With Vikram successfully landed, a solar-powered rover will now embark on an exploration of the lunar surface. Over its two-week lifespan, it will gather data and transmit it back to Earth.

India’s space program is rapidly closing in on the milestones achieved by global space powers such as the United States and Russia. Despite having a comparatively low-budget space program, India has managed to conduct its missions at significantly lower costs. The total cost of the Chandrayaan-3 mission amounted to $74.6 million, which is considerably less than missions from other countries. This achievement highlights India’s frugal space engineering and its ability to copy and adapt existing technology, as well as its abundance of highly skilled engineers who earn a fraction of what their foreign counterparts do.

In 2014, India became the first Asian nation to place a spacecraft into orbit around Mars and aims to launch a crewed mission into Earth’s orbit within the next year. The success of Wednesday’s landing holds particular significance for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), following the disappointment of the previous mission’s failure in 2019 when communication was lost with the lunar module moments before landing.

Former ISRO chief K. Sivan stated that India’s exploration of the relatively unmapped lunar south pole would provide a “very, very important” contribution to scientific knowledge. Only Russia, the United States, and China have accomplished controlled landings on the Moon in the past, with Russia’s recent lunar probe crashing just days before India’s successful landing.

India’s groundbreaking achievement once again puts the nation at the forefront of space exploration, solidifying its position as a prominent player in the global space industry.

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