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India Launches 3rd Moon Mission, Aims to Land Near South Pole

Scheduled to reach the Moon on 23-24 August, the lander’s successful touchdown would make India the fourth nation, following the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China

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India has embarked on its third Moon mission, with the ambitious goal of becoming the first country to achieve a soft landing near the little-explored south pole. The Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft, consisting of an orbiter, lander, and rover, took off from the Sriharikota space centre at 14:35 on Friday (09:05 GMT).

Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) chief Sreedhara Panicker Somanath, in his first comments after the successful launch, declared, “Chandrayaan-3 has begun its journey towards the Moon. Our launch vehicle has put the Chandrayaan on the precise orbit around the Earth.” Isro confirmed on Twitter that “the health of the spacecraft is normal.”

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the event as a significant achievement in India’s space odyssey, stating, “It soars high, elevating the dreams and ambitions of every Indian. This momentous achievement is a testament to our scientists’ relentless dedication. I salute their spirit and ingenuity!” via Twitter.

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Chandrayaan-3, the third lunar exploration mission for India, is expected to build upon the successes of its predecessors. Thirteen years have passed since India’s initial Moon mission in 2008, which conducted the first detailed search for water on the lunar surface and confirmed the presence of an atmosphere during daytime, according to Mylswamy Annadurai, project director of Chandrayaan-1.

Chandrayaan-2, launched in July 2019, experienced partial success, with its orbiter continuing to orbit and study the Moon, while the lander-rover failed to achieve a soft landing and crashed during touchdown due to a last-minute glitch in the braking system, as explained by Mr. Annadurai.

Mr. Somanath assures that they have carefully analyzed the data from the previous crash and conducted simulation exercises to address the glitches. Weighing 3,900kg and costing 6.1 billion rupees ($75 million; £58 million), Chandrayaan-3 shares the same objectives as its predecessor, aiming for a soft landing on the Moon’s surface. The lander, named Vikram after the founder of Isro, weighs approximately 1,500kg and houses the 26kg rover, Pragyaan, which means “wisdom” in Sanskrit.

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Following the recent launch, the spacecraft will take around 15 to 20 days to enter the Moon’s orbit. Scientists will gradually reduce the rocket’s speed over the coming weeks to enable a soft landing for Vikram. Upon successful landing, the six-wheeled rover will be deployed to explore the Moon’s surface, collecting vital data and images to be transmitted back to Earth for analysis.

Mr. Somanath expressed his hopes for new discoveries, stating, “The rover is carrying five instruments which will focus on finding out about the physical characteristics of the surface of the Moon, the atmosphere close to the surface, and the tectonic activity to study what goes on below the surface. I’m hoping we’ll find something new,” during an interview with Mirror Now.

The Moon mission, conceived in the early 2000s to attract talent during India’s IT boom when most technology graduates aspired to join the software industry, has become a matter of pride and prestige for India’s space program, explains Mr. Annadurai. He adds that the program’s larger goal encompasses science, technology, and the future of humanity.

With a growing global interest in lunar exploration, India joins other nations seeking to comprehend the Moon, often regarded as a gateway to deep space.