'India is on the moon': Lander success propels nation to next space chapter (2023)



The Chandrayaan-3 mission makes India the first country to reach the moon's south polar region in one piece and contributes to the achievements of the country's domestic space programme.

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'India is on the moon': Lander success propels nation to next space chapter (1)

VonKumar-Tag,Alex Travelli,Mujib MashalAndKenneth Chang

Hari Kumar and Alex Travelli reported from Bengaluru, India near Chandrayaan-3 Mission Control.

Two visitors from India — a lander named Vikram and a rover named Pragyan — landed in the moon's south polar region on Wednesday. The two robots on a mission called Chandrayaan-3 will make India the first country to reach this part of the moon's surface in one piece — and only the fourth country ever to land on the moon.

"We made a soft landing on the moon," said S. Somanath, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, after a roar echoed through the ISRO campus just after 1 p.m. local time. "India is on the moon."

The Indian public is already immensely proud of the achievements of the national space program, which orbits the Moon and Mars and routinely launches satellites above Earth, with far less funding than other spacefaring nations.

But Chandrayaan-3's success could be even better as it comes at a particularly crucial time in the South Asian giant's diplomatic push as an ambitious rising power.









India successfully lands a spacecraft on the surface of the moon

Cheers erupted in the control room at the Indian Space Research Organization as the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft landed in the moon's south polar region.

The height is lowered from 800 metres. And we are getting closer and closer to the surface of the moon. He hung a painting for that exact day. he the People clap. By Space Department Secretary and Chairman Isro Somnath. I'm sure. It is every country in the world. Including those from the Global South. is able to provide such services. We can all strive for that. Part of the moon and beyond.

'India is on the moon': Lander success propels nation to next space chapter (6)

Indian officials favor a multipolar world order in which New Delhi is seen as crucial to global solutions. In space exploration, as in many other fields, the message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government was clear: the world will be a fairer place if India takes a leadership role, even as the world's most populous country works to meet its basic needs. people fulfill needs.

This assertiveness on the world stage is a central campaign message for Mr Modi, who faces re-election to a third term early next year. He has often linked his image to India's rise to economic, diplomatic and technological power.

Sir. Modi has been physically present at mission control in other recent moments of Indian space history, including during a successful Mars orbit in 2014 and a failed moon landing in 2019, where he was seen consoling scientists and hugging the ISRO chief as he cried.

But the landing of Chandrayaan-3 coincided with its journey to South Africa for a meeting between theGroup of nations known as BRICS. During the final minutes of the landing, Mr Modi's face beamed into the control room in Bengaluru, where he was seen with the lander's animation on the split screen.

"Chandrayaan-3's triumph reflects the aspirations and capabilities of 1.4 billion Indians," Mr Modi said after the landing was completed, declaring the event a "moment for a new, developing India."



In a country with a long tradition of science, the excitement and anticipation surrounding the landing provided a rare moment of coherence in what has otherwise beendifficult times of sectarian tensiondriven by the divisive politics of Mr Modi's ruling Hindu nationalist party.

Prayers for the success of the mission were held in Hindu temples, Sikh gurdwaras and Muslim mosques. Schools held special ceremonies and organized live observations of the moon landingin official YouTube-videothe event that attracted tens of thousands of views. Police in the city of Mumbai, India's commercial and entertainment hub, sent a"special musical tribute"in front of the scientists and sang a popular patriotic song.

"There is full faith," the song says in Hindi. "We will succeed."

The Indian mission launched in July and took a slow, fuel-efficient route to the moon. But Chandrayaan-3 outperformed its Russian counterpart Luna-25, which was launched 12 days ago. Luna-25 was scheduled to land on the moon in the same environment as the Indian spacecraft on Mondaycrashed on Saturdayafter an engine failure.

That India managed to outdo Russia, which, like the Soviet Union, sent the first satellite, man and woman, into space, testifies to the different development of the two nations' space programs.

Much of India's foreign policy in recent decades has been characterized by a delicate balancing act between Washington and Moscow, but the country has more to contend with an increasingly aggressive China on its borders. The militaries of both countries have been locked in a battle in the Himalayas for three years now, and vulnerability to a threat from China is a major factor in India's calculations.

The shared frustration with Beijing has only increasedCooperation between the United States and India, even in the space whereChina is establishing itselfIdirect competitionwith the United States.

And with the success of Chandrayaan-3, Mr. Modi may benefit from drawing on India's scientific prowess to "more assertively assert Indian national interests on the world stage," said Bharat Karnad, professor emeritus of national security studies at the Center for Policy Research in India New Delhi.

The control room in Bengaluru became a happy scene for the Indian Space Research Organisation's engineers, scientists and technicians.

After landing, ISRO management members who piloted Chandrayaan-3 made it clear that the failure of their last lunar landing attempt in 2019 was a major driving force behind their work.

"From the day we started rebuilding our spacecraft after the Chandaryaan-2 experience, it has been an inhale and exhale of Chandrayaan-3 for our team," said Kalpana Kalahasti, deputy project manager for the mission.

'India is on the moon': Lander success propels nation to next space chapter (7)'India is on the moon': Lander success propels nation to next space chapter (8)'India is on the moon': Lander success propels nation to next space chapter (9)'India is on the moon': Lander success propels nation to next space chapter (10)

Chandrayaan-3 has been orbiting the moon since early August. On Sunday, an engine fire pushed the lander into an elliptical orbit that passed within 15 miles of the surface. As the spacecraft approached the bottom of orbit on Wednesday, moving at a speed of more than 3,700 miles per hour, a pre-programmed sequence of maneuvers began.

At the beginning of what ISRO called the "hard braking" portion of the descent, the vehicle's four engines fired again, increasing the rate of descent. After 11.5 minutes, the lander was just over 4.5 miles above the surface and began to rotate from horizontal to vertical as it continued its descent.

The spacecraft stopped to hover about 150 meters above the surface for a few seconds, then continued its descent until it landed gently on the surface, about 370 miles from the South Pole. The landing sequence lasted about 19 minutes.

Chandrayaan-3 is a science mission scheduled to last two weeks, when the sun shines on the landing pad and powers the solar-powered lander and rover. The lander and rover will use a variety of instruments to perform thermal, seismic and mineralogical measurements.

India and ISRO have many other plans.

Although an Indian astronaut flew into orbit on a Soviet spacecraft in 1984, the country has never sent humans into space alone. India is preparing its first astronaut mission called Gaganyaan. However, the project, which aims to send three Indian astronauts into space on the country's own spacecraft, has seen delays and ISRO has not announced a date.

The country is also working to launch a solar observatory called Aditya-L1 in early September and later a jointly built Earth observation satellite with NASA. India also plans to continue its recently completed Mars orbiter mission.



Somanath has described the current moment as a turning point, as the country opens up its space endeavors to private investors after half a century of state monopoly has made progress but "while operating on a shoestring budget".

"These are very cheap missions," said Mr. Somanath after landing. "No one in the world can do it like we can."

When reporters pressed him on the price of Chandrayaan-3, Mr Somanath broke off with a laugh: "I don't want to reveal such secrets, we don't want everyone else to be so cheap!"

As ISRO continues to explore the solar system, the results ofIndia's private sectorcould soon attract just as much attention. A younger generation of aerospace engineersinspired by SpaceX, have started to become independent. While ISRO's budget last fiscal year was less than $1.5 billion, the size of India's private space economy is already at least $6 billion and is expected to triple as early as 2025.

And the pace of change is accelerating. Modi's government wants India to harness the entrepreneurial dynamism of the private sector to get more satellites and investment into space — and faster.

Up on the moon, Vikram and Pragyan went to work and according to Mr. Somanath said the rover could roll onto the lunar surface in the coming hours or sometime Thursday. The landing site, on a plateau south of Manzinus Crater and west of Boguslawsky Crater, is at about the same latitude as the Antarctic rim on Earth.

So far, spacecraft have managed to land on the moon closer to the equator. The polar regions are fascinating because of the frozen water at the bottom of craters that are permanently in shadow. If such water can be found and extracted in sufficient quantities, astronauts can use it for future space exploration.

The moon's south pole is the designated destination for astronauts who could visit the moon as part of NASA's Artemis program, but also for upcoming Chinese and Russian missions. In the short term, as many as three robotic missions could fly to the moon later this year, one from Japan and two from private American companies working with NASA.

But in Bengaluru, after the launch, Mr Somanath hinted that India was eyeing worlds beyond the moon.

"It is very difficult for any nation to achieve this. But we managed it in just two attempts," he said. "There is confidence to land on Mars and maybe Venus and other planets, maybe asteroids."


Kumar-Tagis a reporter in the New Delhi bureau. He joined the Times in 1997. My Om Hari Kumar

Alex Travelliis a New Delhi-based correspondent for The Times, covering business and economic issues in India and the rest of South Asia. He previously worked as an editor and correspondent for The Economist. Mere om Alex Travelli

Mujib Mashalis the Times bureau chief for South Asia. The Kabul-born author wrote for magazines such as The Atlantic, Harper's and Time before joining The Times. Mere Om Mujib Mashal

Kenneth Changhas been with The Times since 2000 and writes about physics, geology, chemistry and the planets. Before becoming a science writer, he was a graduate student whose research focused on the control of chaos. More about Kenneth Chang

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