Just a day after India’s lunar rover Chandrayaan-3 successfully touched the Moon’s South Pole, new images have emerged that capture the rover’s first moments of exploration on the lunar surface. The achievement marks a historic milestone for India’s space program as the nation becomes the fourth in the world to land a spacecraft safely on the Moon and the first to do so at its enigmatic south pole.
Chandrayaan-3’s mission is a culmination of meticulous planning and engineering, consisting of a four-legged stationary lander called ‘Vikram’ and a smaller, plucky rover called ‘Pragyan’. The lander-rover duo landed at the moon’s south pole, a region characterized by dramatic craters, deep trenches and extremely cold temperatures that can drop to -246°C, putting stress on any spacecraft’s power systems.
Newly released video footage shows the rover descending the lander ramp, leaving distinctive marks on the lunar surface as it sets off on its dusty journey. This effort was made possible by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which was vigilant to ensure that all systems worked perfectly. The mission’s success is particularly significant as it aims to unravel the mysteries of the Moon’s south pole, a region untouched by previous lunar missions.
Chandrayaan-3’s primary objectives involve extensive scientific exploration. Equipped with two science instruments, the ‘Pragyan’ rover and three instruments on the ‘Vikram’ lander have been activated to study the atmospheric and mineral composition of the Moon’s surface.
One of the focal points of this exploration is the identification of water ice, a valuable resource that is abundant in the southern region of the moon due to its extremely cold temperatures. These pockets of ice, known as “cold traps,” have the potential to provide insights into a variety of topics, from lunar volcanoes to the origins of former oceans and even potential microbial life.
Indians are the first to reach the South Pole of the Moon
However, the short duration of the mission presents a challenge. The science instruments are expected to remain operational for about one lunar day, the equivalent of 14 Earth days, before power depletion curtails their operations. ISRO President Sreedhara Somanath acknowledged the challenges posed by the lunar environment, including the presence of lunar dust and temperatures that could hinder the rover’s mobility during its limited operational window.
India’s triumph in landing Chandrayaan-3 on the moon’s south pole also comes amid a fierce competition in lunar exploration. Russia and China are vying for the opportunity to be the first to land on the southern region of the moon. Russia’s recent attempt, the Luna 25 mission, ended in a crash, leaving India to seize the opportunity and claim the historic feat.
Chandrayaan-3’s success is a testament to India’s growing prowess in space technology, achieved on a relatively modest budget of $74.6 million. India’s budget-conscious approach is facilitated by its ability to adapt existing space technology and leverage its pool of skilled engineers who offer their expertise at lower wages compared to their international counterparts.
With this success, India is poised to make further progress in space exploration. Collaborations with organizations such as the Japan Space Agency (JAXA) for Chandrayaan-4 are already underway. The next phase of India’s lunar exploration is tentatively scheduled for 2025 or 2026, expanding its footprint to the Moon’s south pole.
While India has secured its place as the first country to land on the South Pole of the Moon, other nations are not far behind. China’s Chang’e 7 mission, scheduled for 2026, and NASA’s Artemis program, with its ambitious plans for human landings, promise to usher in a new era of lunar exploration. As the world turns its gaze to the unexplored southern region of the moon, the Chandrayaan-3 mission serves as a remarkable starting point for unraveling the mysteries of this otherworldly landscape.