BENGALURU, INDIA - AUGUST 23: Employees of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) celebrate after the successful landing of Chandrayaan-3 mission on the moon inside the ISRO Telemetry Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) facility on August 23, 2023 in Bengaluru, India. India’s indigenously built unmanned Chandrayaan-3 space exploration mission with the 1752 kg lunar lander ‘Vikram’ containing the six-wheeled 26 kg rover ‘Pragyan’ landed near the lunar South Pole making it the fourth country after the United States, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and China, to achieve this feat. Chandrayaan-3 will conduct in-situ scientific experiments on the lunar surface. (Photo by Abhishek Chinnappa/Getty Images)

Why India’s Lunar Landing Placement Is Such a Big Deal

An extraordinary scientific achievement.

On August 23, 2023, India’s Chandrayaan-3 landed on the south pole of the moon, marking the first time any country (or private entity) has achieved this feat. The Luna-25 of Russia had previously attempted a few days prior but failed. The following day, the rover began exploring the southern polar region as it exited its spacecraft to journey across this mysterious part of the moon. 

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People across India tuned in as the spacecraft landed, with many watching live on TVs across the nation and at least seven million streaming the landing on YouTube. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Chandrayaan-3’s triumph mirrors the aspirations and capabilities of 1.4 billion Indians,” adding that it was “the moment for new, developing India.” The mission will boost India’s standing internationally as a space power, a title that has really only been held by the United States, Russia, and China. In turn, this will boost the pride of Indian scientists and encourage more of the country’s youth to study STEM.

The Chandrayaan-3 ( which translates to “moon vehicle” in Hindi and Sanskrit) is the first to land in the southern polar region. But what makes the south pole of the moon so unique? NASA lists two main challenges that have made the south pole so difficult to explore: lighting and terrain. In the south pole of the moon the sun shines either below or just above the horizon, which can make temperatures during daylight over 130°F. But even when there is illumination, mountains and craters have abysses with perpetual darkness and permanently shadowed regions that haven’t had sunlight in billions of years. Because of this, these areas can have temperatures as cold as -334°F. 

These conditions make for an unstable climate and changing weather patterns that can make it difficult for spacecraft to adjust. The chief of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said that dust could be another big challenge for the rover. Because of the varying conditions and lack of air on the moon, the dust could end up sticking to moving parts of the craft, making it harder to operate. 

This mission is important as NASA has identified great discoveries that the South Pole of the moon can provide. Chief among them is the presence of water ice in the craters, which could sustain future explorers and potentially be used for fuel and oxygen (not to mention hydration). Potable water could lead to longer missions on the moon, not to mention untold scientific discoveries. Now with India’s historic achievement, hopefully the world will discover the mysteries of the moon. 

(featured image: Abhishek Chinnappa/Getty Images)

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