'India is on the moon': the success of the landers propels the country to the 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 program.

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'India is on the moon': the success of the landers propels the country to the next space chapter (1)

VonKumar-Tag,Alex Travelli,Mujib MashalInKenneth Chang

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

Two visitors from India — a lander called Vikram and a rover called Pragyan — landed in the lunar 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 lunar surface in one piece — and only the fourth country to ever land on the moon.

"We made a soft landing on the moon," said S. Somanath, president of the Indian Space Research Organization, after a roar echoed through the ISRO campus just after 6 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 over the Earth, with far less funding than other space-faring nations.

But Chandrayaan-3's success could be even more glorious, as it comes at a particularly pivotal time in the South Asian giant's diplomatic development as an ambitious emerging power.



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India successfully lands a spacecraft on the lunar surface

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

The altitude is reduced from 800 meters. And we are getting closer and closer to the lunar surface. He put up a painting for the exact day. he the People applaud. By Secretary of the Aerospace Department and Chairman Isro Somnath. I am confident. These are all countries of the world. Including those from the Global South. Are able to provide such services. We can all strive for it. Part of the moon and beyond.

'India is on the moon': the success of the landers propels the country to the next space chapter (6)

Indian officials are calling for a multipolar world order in which New Delhi is seen as essential to global solutions. In space exploration, the message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, as in many other fields, was clear: the world will be a fairer place if India takes a leading role, just as the world's most populous country does its best to provide for the basic needs of his country. meeting people's needs.

That assertiveness on the global stage is an important campaign message for Mr Modi, who will be re-elected for a third term early next year. He has often linked his image to that of India's rise to economic, diplomatic and technological power.

Mr Modi was physically present at mission control at other recent moments in Indian space history, including during a successful Mars orbit in 2014 and a failed moon landing in 2019, where he comforted scientists and tearfully hugged the ISRO chief.

But Chandrayaan-3's landing coincided with his trip to South Africa for a meeting of theA group of countries known as the BRICS. During the final minutes of landing, Mr Modi's face beamed to the control room in Bengaluru, where he could be seen with the lander animation on the shared screen.

“Chandrayaan-3’s triumph reflects the aspirations and capabilities of 1.4 billion Indians,” Modi said after the landing was completed, calling the event a “moment for a new, evolving India.”



In a country with a long tradition of science, the excitement and anticipation surrounding the landing provided a rare moment of consistency in what had been different.difficult times of sectarian tensionsfueled by the divisive policies of 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 hosted live observations of the moon landingan official YouTube videothe event that attracted tens of millions of views. The police band in the city of Mumbai, India's commercial and entertainment hub, sent one"special musical tribute"for the scientists and sang a popular patriotic song.

“There is complete faith,” the song says in Hindi. "We will succeed."

The Indian mission launched in July and followed a slow, frugal route to the moon. But Chandrayaan-3 surpassed its Russian counterpart Luna-25, which was launched twelve days ago. Luna-25 was due to land on the moon on Monday in the same environment as the Indian spacecraftcrashed Saturdayafter an engine failure.

The fact that India managed to trump Russia, which, like the Soviet Union, sent the first satellite, male and female, into space, testifies to the different development of the space programs of the two countries.

Much of India's foreign policy over the past few decades has been characterized by a delicate balancing act between Washington and Moscow, but the country has more to do with an increasingly aggressive China on its borders. Both countries' armies have been locked in a stalemate in the Himalayas for three years now, and vulnerability to a threat from China is a key factor in India's calculations.

The shared frustration with Beijing has only increasedCooperation between USA and India, even in space, whereChina establishes itselfIndirect competitionwith the United States.

And with the success of Chandrayaan-3, Modi can capitalize on India's scientific prowess to "more assertively assert Indian national interests on the global stage," said Bharat Karnad, emeritus professor 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 engineers, scientists and technicians of the Indian Space Research Organization.

After landing, ISRO leadership members piloting 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': the success of the landers propels the country to the next space chapter (7)'India is on the moon': the success of the landers propels the country to the next space chapter (8)'India is on the moon': the success of the landers propels the country to the next space chapter (9)'India is on the moon': the success of the landers propels the country to the 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 was within 15 miles (24 km) of the surface. As the spacecraft approached the bottom of the orbit on Wednesday, traveling at more than 6,000 kilometers per hour, a pre-programmed sequence of maneuvers began.

At the start of what ISRO called the "hard braking" portion of the descent, the vehicle's four engines re-energized, increasing its rate of descent. At 11.5 minutes, the lander was just over 7.2 miles above the surface and began to pivot from horizontal to vertical as it continued its descent.

The spacecraft stopped to hover about 150 meters above the surface for a few seconds and continued its descent until it touched down gently on the surface, about 600 kilometers from the South Pole. The landing sequence lasted about 19 minutes.

Chandrayaan-3 is a science mission expected to last two weeks, when the sun will shine on the landing pad and provide power to the solar-powered lander and rover. Lander and rover will use a range 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 been delayed 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.



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

"These are very cheap missions," Mr Somanath said after landing. "Nobody in the world can do it as well as we can."

When reporters pressed him about the cost of Chandrayaan-3, Mr. Somanath laughed off, "I won't reveal such secrets, we don't want everyone else to be so cheap!"

As ISRO continues to explore the solar system, the performance ofIndia's private sectorcould soon attract as much attention. A younger generation of aerospace engineersinspired by SpaceXhave become independent entrepreneurs. While ISRO's budget was less than $1.5 billion last fiscal year, 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. The Modi government wants India to harness the entrepreneurial dynamism of the private sector to get more satellites and investment into space – and faster.

On the moon, Vikram and Pragyan got to work, and according to Mr. Somanath, the rover could roll to the lunar surface in the next few hours or sometime on Thursday. The landing site, on a plateau south of Manzinus crater and west of Boguslawsky crater, is at about the same latitude as Earth's edge of Antarctica.

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 shaded. If such water can be found and extracted in sufficient quantities, astronauts could use it for future space exploration.

The moon's south pole is the preferred destination for astronauts who might visit the moon as part of NASA's Artemis program, as well as 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 U.S. companies partnering with NASA.

But in Bengaluru, Mr. Somanath hinted after the launch that India had its eye on worlds beyond the moon.

“It is very difficult for any country to achieve this. But we made it with just two attempts,” he said. "There's confidence in landing on Mars and maybe Venus and other planets, maybe asteroids."


Kumar-Tagis a reporter in the New Delhi office. In 1997 he joined the Times. More about Hari Kumar

Alex Travelliis a New Delhi-based correspondent for The Times, covering business and economic issues in India and across South Asia. He previously worked as an editor and correspondent for The Economist. More about Alex Travelli

Mujib Mashalis head of the Times bureau for South Asia. The Kabul-born author wrote for magazines such as The Atlantic, Harper's and Time before joining The Times. More about 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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