Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)’s ambitious third Moon mission Chandrayaan-3 scripted history by successfully landing on the lunar surface at 6:04 pm on August 23,2023. With the Lander accomplishing a ‘soft landing’ on the Moon’s south pole, India becomes the only country to have ever done so.
However, India is the fourth country to master the technology of soft-landing on the lunar surface after the US, China, and the erstwhile Soviet Union. However, India is the first country to land a spacecraft in the moon’s south polar region. The `600 crore Chandrayaan-3 mission was launched on July 14 onboard Launch Vehicle Mark-III (LVM-3) rocket, for a 41-day voyage to reach near the lunar south pole. The soft-landing is being attempted days after Russia’s Luna-25 spacecraft crashed into the Moon after spinning out of control.
“India is on the moon,” Sreedhara Panicker Somanath, the chair of the Indian Space Research Organisation, said as the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft’s Vikram lander touched down shortly after 6 pm on Aug. 23 near the little-explored lunar south pole in a world first for any space programme. People across the country were glued to television screens as the spacecraft approached territory that scientists believe could hold vital reserves of frozen water and precious elements.
The nation is abuzz with celebration and the media is publicizing it in such a way that the present regime and Prime Minister only deserve credit. “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. “We are witnessing history.”
First, all credits should be given to present and past ISRO scientists including Vikram Sarabhai , the founding father of India’s space research. If any Prime Minister is to be given credit, first it should be given to Nehru who established the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and encouraged scientific temper. He has created so many institutions when there was a shortage of resources. Present rulers are forgetting his enormous contributions in each sphere of life.
Next credit should be given to Dr. Manmohan Singh under whose regime, Chandrayaan-1 launched on Oct. 22, 2008. After scientists, Nehru, Manmohan Singh, and other Prime Ministers, Narendra Modi’s name will come under whose regime mission was achieved.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is the pioneer space exploration agency of the Government of India, headquartered in Bengaluru. ISRO was formed in 1969 with a vision to develop and harness space technology in national development while pursuing planetary exploration and space science research. ISRO replaced its predecessor, INCOSPAR (Indian National Committee for Space Research), established in 1962 by India’s first Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and scientist Vikram Sarabhai, are considered amongst the founding fathers of the Indian space program.
ISRO, by successfully demonstrating its unique and cost-effective technologies, has gained place among the elite space agencies in the world over the years. The first Indian satellite, Aryabhata, was built by the ISRO and launched with the help of the Soviet Union on April 19, 1975. The year 1980 marked the launch of Rohini, which was the first satellite to be successfully placed in orbit by SLV-3, an Indian-made launch vehicle.
Subsequently, with more effort, two other rockets were developed by ISRO: the PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) for placing satellites into polar orbits and the GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle) for placing satellites into geostationary orbits. Both the rockets have successfully launched several earth observation and communication satellites for India as well as other countries.
Indigenous satellite navigation systems like IRNSS and GAGAN have also been deployed. In January 2014, ISRO used an indigenously built cryogenic engine for a GSLV-D5 launch of the GSAT-14 satellite making it one of the only six countries in the world to develop a cryogenic technology. Apart from recent and remarkable space probes of ISRO include Chandrayaan-1, 11 and 111, lunar orbiter, Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan-1) and ASTROSAT space observatory. The success of the Mars Orbiter Mission made India only the fourth country in the world to reach the Martian orbit.
The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), unofficially termed as Mangalyaan, (from Sanskrit: Mangala, “Mars” and yāna, “craft, vehicle”) was a space probe orbiting Mars since 24 September 2014. It was launched on 5 November 2013 by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). It was India’s first interplanetary mission and it made ISRO the fourth space agency to achieve Mars orbit, after Roscosmos, NASA, and the European Space Agency. It made India the first Asian nation to reach the Martian orbit and the first nation in the world to do so on its maiden attempt.
The name Chandrayaan means “Moon Craft” in ancient Sanskrit, according to NASA. The Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft was based on an Indian meteorological satellite called Kalpansat. It was about the size of a refrigerator, with a dry weight (weight without fuel) of about 525 kilograms (1,160 lbs.) and was powered by a solar array that charged lithium-ion batteries on board.
India’s tryst with moon which began in 2008 with Chandrayaan-1 successfully concluded with its version -3. . It was this end manoeuvre that went wrong in the final few minutes of India’s last moon mission- Chandrayaan-2 – in 2019, when the lander failed to change position and hurtled towards the surface during the final braking phase. Chandrayaan-2, the first mission with the objective of soft landing on the Moon had a narrow miss, while the Chandrayaan-3 mission was perfectly executed.
Chandrayaan-1’s objective was only to place an unmanned spacecraft in an orbit around the Moon.Chandrayaan-2 had failed in its lunar phase when its lander ‘Vikram’ crashed into the surface of the Moon following anomalies in the braking system in the lander while attempting a touchdown on September 7, 2019.
Chandrayaan-1 launched on Oct. 22, 2008, from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India, aboard a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket, according to NASA. It reached the moon on Nov. 8, 2008. The spacecraft released its Moon Impact Probe on Nov. 14, which crashed into the moon on the same day.
The spacecraft initially performed its work from a mapping orbit at an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles), ISRO said. In May 2009, controllers raised the orbit to 200 km (124 miles). Chandrayaan-1 made 3,400 orbits of the moon and continued transmitting data until Aug. 29, 2009, when controllers permanently lost communication with the spacecraft. Notably, Chandrayaan-1’s data helped determine the presence of water ice on the moon, which NASA announced in September 2009.
The successful landing marks India’s emergence as a space power as the government looks to spur investment in private space launches and related satellite-based businesses.India’s next target: Mars, the 4th planet from the sun and more than 146 times further from the earth than the moon. However while celebrating this achievement, we should not forget that India is home to largest number of hungry and poor people in the world. Crores of people struggle to eke out basic existence.
The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker.