India has reached where no nation has gone before.
India rejoiced on Wednesday as a proud moment enveloped it with the soft-landing of Chandrayaan-3 on Moon’s surface — an event that was telecast live by channels to a cheering audience across the country and beyond at 6.04pm.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) announced that it successfully executed the soft landing of its lunar probe mission’s Lander Module (LM), Vikram, on the Moon’s surface. This feat places India in an exclusive group — the (former) USSR, the United States and China — that had successfully conducted soft landings on the lunar surface.
Significantly, this marks the nation’s ascent to becoming the first nation to achieve a soft-landing near the Moon’s south pole.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the Isro team, noting that India’s lunar success transcended national boundaries. He underscored the global resonance of India’s “one earth, one family, one future” philosophy, which also underpinned this lunar mission. “Moon mission is based on the same human-centric approach. So, this success belongs to all of humanity,” the Prime Minister said.
Modi witnessed the landing while on a tour of South Africa for the Bris Summit. He proudly waved an Indian flag, signifying a triumph that extends beyond the nation’s borders. After the touchdown, the Prime Minister called Isro chief S. Somnath and conveyed his congratulations.
President Droupadi Murmu, Union ministers, chief ministers, the scientific and film fraternity and leaders cutting across political spectrum also showered encomiums on the space scientists.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission embarked on its journey from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Tirupati district on July 14. After 41 days of anticipation, Vikram gently touched down on the Moon’s surface.
This milestone was all the more thrilling as it happened after a setback the Chandrayaan-2 mission faced four years ago– when Vikram’s attempt for a soft landing failed. However, Isro’s meticulous planning, dedication to innovation, problem-solving and preparations ensured that Vikram’s powered descent on Wednesday took place smoothly and precisely as intended.
“We have successfully executed a soft landing. India has effectively reached the Moon. Chandrayaan-3 stands as the outcome of collaborative efforts involving thousands of scientists, engineers, staff, industries and support teams spanning various locations,” stated Somanath in his first comments after the triumphant landing.
He thanked the Prime Minister for being a part of the successful journey, and all those who offered prayers for the mission’s success. Notably mentioned were Isro veterans such as A.S. Kiran Kumar, former head of the space agency; P. Veeramuthuvel, project director; Srikant, director of Mission Operations.
Somanath acknowledged their significant contributions, as also of the other team members, in building confidence, conducting reviews and ensuring an error-free execution.
The achievement was a collective endeavour, not solely the result of current efforts, but rather the culmination of Isro’s leadership and scientific endeavours over generations,” Somnath stated.
He reflected on the journey initiated with Chandrayaan-1, followed by Chandrayaan-2, and highlighted the importance of acknowledging all contributors to these missions.
Veeramuthuvel, the project director, remarked, “Significantly, we have become the first country to go near the South Pole of the Moon.”
In their conversation, the Prime Minister referenced Somnath’s name, which means “Moon,” and assured a personal visit to Isro soon.
Recalling the call, Somnath stated, “Prime Minister Modi was kind enough to call me. He extended his message to all scientists and contributors involved in the mission. His keen understanding of the ‘Amrit kaal’ (golden era) of Space exploration was evident. I am confident he will continue supporting our future exploratory endeavours.”
Following the successful landing of the lander on the Moon’s surface, celebrations erupted at the Mission Operations Complex at Isro Telemetry, Tracking, and Command Network, Bengaluru and SHAR, Sriharikota. Isro stated that in the coming hours, the LM would deploy a rover, tasked with conducting in-situ chemical analysis on the lunar terrain while it moves about.
The LM and rover, designed for a mission duration of one lunar day (equivalent to 14 Earth days), carry scientific instruments for various experiments on the lunar surface.
Soon after the touchdown, Isro unveiled images of the Chandrayaan-3 landing site. The photographs, taken by the Landing Imager Camera shortly after the landing, showcased the lunar surface, pinpointing the location where the ambitious Moon mission successfully touched down.
Notably, a portion of the Lander Module ‘Vikram’ can also be observed in one of the released images, as conveyed by the Isro on its official ‘X’ account.
The Space agency had previously announced that Chandrayaan-3 lander had successfully established a communication link with the MOX-ISTRAC centre in Bengaluru. This achievement marked a crucial step forward in the mission’s final objectives.
Further underscoring the progress made, Isro released the first set of images captured from the Lander Module ‘Vikram.’ These images provide a glimpse of the lunar terrain, offering scientists and Space enthusiasts some valuable insights into the Moon’s surface.
The Indian Space agency highlighted several remarkable achievements resulting from Vikram’s lunar landing. Most notably, India became the first nation to successfully land a spacecraft in the demanding polar region of the Moon. Notably, the Moon’s polar areas have long-held mysteries about its geological history and potential resources.
The success of this lunar mission is attributed to a combination of ISRO’s unwavering efforts and meticulous improvements made to the Chandrayaan-3, in the wake of Chandrayaan-2’s setback.
Over the course of nearly four years, the Space agency worked tirelessly to anticipate and address failure scenarios. Isro introduced a series of improvements in its third lunar mission, with the most significant enhancements applied to Vikram, the lander.
Notably, Vikram’s landing gear was fortified to withstand higher landing velocities, increasing the tolerance level from 2m/sec to 3m/sec. This crucial upgrade ensures that even under less-than-ideal scenarios, the lander can execute its soft landing without catastrophic consequences.
Additionally, Vikram was equipped with extra fuel for better maneuverability and resilience against potential disruptions.
Another notable addition was the laser Doppler velocity meter, a novel sensor capable of analysing the lunar topography and providing vital navigation and orientation data. The redundancy in measurements offered by this sensor enhances the safety and success of the mission.
ISRO also revamped the software, making it more resilient to failures and eliminating the central engine that had caused issues in the Chandrayaan-2.
Given the increased mass of the lander, two engines are now utilized for a safe landing, a strategic decision aimed at ensuring a successful outcome.
The lead-up to the mission involved extensive testing, encompassing autonomous flights, helicopter trials, simulations of crane-assisted landings, drop tests and software simulations. This rigorous testing regimen surpassed that of Chandrayaan-2, thoroughly evaluating potential failures and recovery strategies.