3rd October 2023
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Indians celebrate as spacecraft lands near south pole of moon in historic first

Author: The Guardian | Published: Wednesday, August 23, 2023


India has become the first country to successfully land a spacecraft near the south pole of the moon in a historic moment that drew cheers at watching parties around the country.

Chandrayaan-3, which means “mooncraft” in Sanskrit, put down its Vikram lander shortly after 6pm (1230 GMT) near the lunar south pole in a world first for any space programme.

“India is on the moon,” said Sreedhara Panicker Somanath, the chair of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), as the Vikram landed.

For India, the successful landing marks its emergence as a space power as the government looks to spur investment in private space launches and related satellite-based businesses.

People across the country were glued to television screens and said prayers as the spacecraft approached the surface.

“This is a victory cry of a new India,” said the prime minister, Narendra Modi, who was seen waving the Indian flag as he watched the landing from South Africa, where he is attending the Brics summit.

As well as making history by becoming the first country to touch down near the south pole region, India has also joined the US, the former Soviet Union and China in achieving a moon landing.

The mission launched nearly six weeks ago in front of thousands of cheering spectators, taking much longer to reach the moon than the Apollo missions in the 1960s and 1970s, which arrived in a matter of days.

India is using rockets much less powerful than the US did back then. Instead, the probe orbited Earth several times to gain speed before embarking on its month-long lunar trajectory.

Rough terrain makes a south pole landing difficult. The region’s water ice could supply fuel, oxygen and drinking water for future missions.

This was India’s second attempt to land a spacecraft on the moon. In 2019, ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 mission successfully deployed an orbiter but its lander crashed.

On Monday Russia said its first moon mission in 47 years – which also targeted the south pole – had failed after its Luna-25 spacecraft spun out of control and crashed into the moon. Russia’s head of the state-controlled space corporation, Roscosmos, attributed the failure to the lack of expertise due to the long break in lunar research that followed the last Soviet mission to the moon in 1976.

ISRO staff celebrate the successful landing of Chandrayaan-3 on the moon at the command facility in Bengaluru.

A six-wheeled rover is scheduled to roam the lunar surface gathering images and data. The rover is expected to remain functional for two weeks, running a series of experiments including a spectrometer analysis of the mineral composition of the lunar surface.

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