On Thursday of this week, India launched a rocket carrying a spacecraft for its lunar mission from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre located in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh Friday, in an ambitious second attempt at putting a lander and a rover on the moon amid several other global efforts to explore the lunar surface.
Chandrayaan-3, the word for “moon craft” in Sanskrit, took off from a launchpad in Sriharikota with an orbiter, a lander and a rover, in a demonstration of India’s emerging space technology.
India’s previous attempt to land a robotic spacecraft near the moon’s little-explored south pole ended in failure in 2019. It entered the lunar orbit but lost touch with its lander that crashed while making its final descent to deploy a rover to search for signs of water. According to a failure analysis report submitted to the ISRO, the crash was caused by a software glitch.
The $140-million mission in 2019 was intended to study permanently shadowed moon craters that are thought to contain water deposits and were confirmed by India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008.
Reaching the moon is something only three other nations have achieved.
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As Statista's Martin Armstrong details, on September 14, 1959, The Soviet Union's Luna 2 spacecraft became the first man-made object to make contact with the Moon - slamming into its surface and completing its lunar impactor mission.
After that momentous achievement, the USSR shifted its focus away from impactors, and eventually became the first country, in 1966, to successfully complete a soft landing on the Moon.
A few months later, NASA's Surveyor 1 became the first U.S. spacecraft to conduct a soft lunar landing - a mission which paved the way for the manned Apollo missions and eventually Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin becoming the first humans to set foot on the celestial body's surface.
Despite the USSR's early space race dominance, the United States is still to this day the only country to have successfully landed humans on the Moon - having done so another five times after the famous Apollo 11 mission. Having fallen down the priority list of most space agencies since the heights of the sixties, landing on the Moon has come back into focus in recent years. China became the first country to soft land a spacecraft on the 'dark' or 'far' side of the Moon, when the Chang'e 4 lander touched down and deployed the Yutu-2 lunar rover in December 2018.
India is the only other country to have landed on the moon by way of an impactor or lander mission (others have done so but only as the final stage of an orbiter mission, crashing down onto the surface with self-destruction their only objective).
After orbiting the Moon for 312 days, Chandrayaan-1 deployed a moon impact probe in November 2008, releasing underground debris that, after analysis by the orbiter, confirmed the presence of water. The mission also made India the first to complete a hard landing on the lunar south pole.
Off the back of this success, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) turned its attention to a soft lunar landing.
In September 2019, Chandrayaan-2 crashed during a landing attempt, with the orbiter remaining operational.
ISRO Director Sreedhara Panicker Somanath said, shortly after this week's launch of Chandrayaan-3, that the Indian space agency has perfected the art of reaching up to the moon, “but it is the landing that the agency is working on.”
If India is successful with Chandrayaan-3, they will be the first country to land near the Moon's south pole, which has not been explored as much as other parts of its surface.
The first part has gone well, India's space agency says.
But we will now need to wait until at least 23 August to see if India can do something no one else has ever done - and land on the south side of the moon.