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India, the Fourth Nation on the Moon

Published on 23 August 2023

The Vikram lander of the Chandrayaan-3 mission successfully landed on the Moon on August 23 at 12:32 Universal Time. After the Soviet Union, the United States and China, India becomes the fourth nation to achieve this feat.

India, the Fourth Nation on the Moon

“India is on the Moon.”  It was with this sentence uttered during the live video of the landing that the Indian space agency ISRO marked the success of Chandrayaan-3. In this way, the largest democracy in the world is recovering from the failure of Chandrayaan-2 in 2019. However, the probe from this previous mission was successfully placed in lunar orbit on August 20, 2019 and is still functioning. But it was the crash of the lander on September 6 that sticks in the memory.

Vikram’s Return

Symbolically, the Chandrayaan-2 and 3 landers bear the same name, Vikram, a tribute to the Indian physicist and astronomer Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai (1919 – 1971).  After the failure in 2019, ISRO teams determined the causes of the malfunction (deviation from the ideal trajectory began just 2.1 km from the surface) in order to make the improvements enabling the success of the second Vikram.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission launched on July 14, 2023 atop the Indian launcher LVM3. After a journey gradually approaching the Moon, orbit was accomplished on August 5. On August 17, the Vikram lander separated from its propulsion module (which also serves as a communications relay) and began its final descent on August 23, four days after the crash of the Russian Luna 25 probe.

Applause and delight  in the ISRO control room on August 23 as the Vikram lander completes the stages of its arrival on the Moon. 
© ISRO (capture d’écran)

The first image released by ISRO of the lunar surface photographed by Vikram after its successful landing.

The Moon’s South Pole, a Popular Destination

As with Chandrayaan-2, ISRO chose transparency, broadcasting live the last forty minutes of Vikram ‘s arrival. The European Space Agency (ESA) participated by collecting data transmitted in real time with its ESTRACK antenna in New Norcia, Australia. At 12:32 Universal Time, two hours later in mainland France and 6:02 p.m. in New Delhi, India became the fourth country to successfully make a smooth landing on the Moon following the Soviet Union, the United States and China. Most importantly, ISRO has so far made the most southerly moon landing on our natural satellite, since Vikram landed at a latitude of 69º south. 

The southern polar regions of the Moon and regions close by, represent a real challenge due to the probable presence of water-ice in the subsoil in the shadow of certain craters. There is obviously a scientific interest in understanding the presence of this water, but in the much longer term the possibility exists of exploiting this resource for future crewed missions (a rationale explained in Cité de l’espace’s Exhibition: Moon Episode 2). In the months and years to come, other craft will therefore attempt to land in its southern regions. More immediately, Vikram deployed the Pragyan rover on the lunar surface equipped with its instruments. Its lifespan in the harsh lunar environment is estimated by ISRO at two weeks.

Live recording from ISRO.  Arrival on the Moon occurs at 44:45 in the video.

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