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“History Made” – India becomes the First Nation to land on the Lunar South Pole

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India has scripted history as Chandrayaan-3 successfully landed on the moon’s south pole. The Vikram lander made a soft lunar landing at 6.04 PM IST on August 23. The moon mission has made India the fourth country to achieve a soft landing on the lunar surface after the US, China, and the erstwhile Soviet Union.

India becomes the first country to land on the lunar south pole, which remains an unexplored area that is anticipated to aid in the understanding of the moon’s atmosphere and pave the way for future space exploration programs.

Earlier this month, Russia attempted to take the achievement from India by launching Luna-25, which was due to make a soft landing on the south pole before India’s Chandrayaan-3. However, the Russian spacecraft crashed into the moon on Saturday after losing contact with Roscosmos, the country’s space agency.

India’s space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), launched the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft through its “Launch Vehicle Mark-III” vehicle on July 14. The launch happened from Satish Dhawan Space Centre on South India’s Sriharikota island.

“Chandrayaan-3 is a result of the work done by thousands of scientists, engineers, our staff and industries and support teams across ISRO and other places, other institutions,” said ISRO chairman S. Somanath while addressing the audience at the space agency’s mission operation complex in Bengaluru after the successful landing.

Chandrayaan-3, the third version of India’s Chandrayaan mission (“moon vehicle” in Sanskrit), aims to demonstrate safe landing and roving on the moon’s surface and conduct on-site scientific experiments. The spacecraft, developed with a budget of less than $75 million, comprises a propulsion module, lander and a rover that collectively carry seven scientific instruments.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) shared the images on X, formerly Twitter, on Wednesday (Aug. 23), about four hours after the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft completed its smooth descent.

The first set of four images were taken by the lander’s Horizontal Velocity Camera as it was nearing the surface of the moon. An additional image from the Landing Imager Camera, shared a little later, shows a glimpse of the landing site, including a portion of the spacecraft’s landing leg and its shadow.

The automated landing boosted India’s increasingly sophisticated space program to the level of “space superpower,” making it only the fourth nation, after the United States, China and the former Soviet Union, to land an operational spacecraft on the moon and the first to reach the south polar region.

Circling the moon in an elliptical orbit with a high point of 83 miles and a low point of just 15.5 miles, Chandrayaan-3’s braking engines fired up around 8:15 a.m. EDT, at an altitude of about 18 miles, to begin the powered descent to the surface.

After dropping to an altitude of about 4.5 miles, and slowing from 3,758 mph to about 800 mph, the spacecraft paused the descent for about 10 seconds to precisely align itself with the targeted landing site.

It then continued the computer-controlled descent to touchdown, beaming back a steady stream of images showing its approach to the lunar surface below. With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi looking on via a television link, the spacecraft settled to touchdown around 8:33 a.m. 

Engineers, mission managers, dignitaries and guests in the Indian Space Research Organization’s control center erupted in cheers and applause.

“We have achieved soft landing on the moon,” said ISRO Chairman Shri Somanath. “Yes, on the moon!”

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