India Becomes First Nation To Land Spacecraft Near Moon’s South Pole

India became the first country to land a vehicle near the Moon’s south pole on Wednesday, a historic victory for the world’s most populous country and its ambitious, low-cost space program.

The unmanned Chandrayaan-3, which means “Mooncraft” in Sanskrit, landed at 6:04 p.m. India time (1234 GMT) to raucous applause from mission control technicians.

Its arrival comes just days after a Russian probe crashed in the same area, and four years after the previous Indian attempt failed at the final second.

On a live broadcast, Prime Minister Narendra Modi smiled heartily and waved an Indian flag to declare the mission’s success as a triumph that reached beyond his country’s boundaries.

“On this joyous occasion I would like to address the people of the world,” said Modi from the sidelines of the BRICS diplomatic summit in South Africa.

“India’s successful moon mission is not just India’s alone,” he added. “This success belongs to all of humanity.”

The Chandrayaan-3 mission has captivated public attention since launching nearly six weeks ago in front of thousands of cheering spectators.

Politicians staged Hindu prayer rituals to wish for the mission’s success and schoolchildren followed the final moments of the landing from live broadcasts in classrooms.

Chandrayaan-3 took much longer to reach the Moon than the Apollo missions in the 1960s and 1970s, which arrived in a matter of days.

India used rockets much less powerful than the ones the United States used back then, meaning the probe had to orbit the Earth several times to gain speed before embarking on its month-long journey.

The lander, Vikram, which means “valour” in Sanskrit, detached from its propulsion module last week and has been sending images of the Moon’s surface since entering lunar orbit on August 5.

Now that Vikram has landed, a solar-powered rover will explore the surface and transmit data to Earth over its two-week lifespan.

Ambitious programme

India is approaching milestones achieved by global space powers such as the United States and Russia, while completing many of its missions at significantly lower costs.

The South Asian country has a relatively low-budget space program that has increased significantly in size and momentum since it first sent a spacecraft into orbit around the Moon in 2008.

The newest mission costs $74.6 million, which is far less than that of other countries and a tribute to India’s inexpensive space engineering.

According to experts, India can keep costs low by replicating and adapting existing technology, as well as by employing a large number of highly trained engineers who earn a fraction of their overseas counterparts’ pay.

India became the first Asian country to place a vehicle in orbit around Mars in 2014, and it plans to launch a three-day crewed mission into Earth’s orbit next year.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was looking forward to Wednesday’s landing after the frustrating failure of its previous mission at the penultimate hurdle in 2019.

Mission control lost touch with the Chandrayaan-2 lunar module just before its scheduled landing.

‘Very, very important’

Former ISRO chief K. Sivan told AFP that India’s efforts to explore the relatively unmapped lunar south pole would make a “very, very important” contribution to scientific knowledge.

Only Russia, the United States and China have previously achieved controlled landings on the Moon.

Russia launched a lunar probe in August — its first in nearly half a century.

If successful, it would have beaten Chandrayaan-3 by a matter of days to become the first mission from any nation to make a controlled landing around the South Pole.

But Luna-25 crashed on Saturday after an unspecified incident as it prepared to descend.

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