The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) achieved a milestone on 23rd August 2023, Wednesday around 6.00 pm IST, when Chandrayaan-3 made a soft landing on the south pole of the moon. As many as 8 million people around the world were hooked to ISRO’s official YouTube channel to watch the miraculous touchdown, breaking YouTube’s live-stream records. After the US, Russia and China, India is now the only fourth country to have achieved a landing on the moon and the first to do so on the South Pole. It is a testament of human aspirations, our innate quest to find answers of the nature and the universe, and a show of resilience with a tenacity to come back stronger, 4 years after Chandrayaan-2 had a partial success.
The credit goes to our scientists whose hard work has paid off. With so many divisions around, this mission united us as Indians, for a few moments of jubilance and triumph. Scientists have shown that we have the expertise, experience, and grit to achieve what was only imagined.
ISRO has recently released the actual footage of the Vikram lander and the Pragyan rover initiating the walk. The experiments which the Moon rover will be carrying out over this space, including looking for sub-soil water, will bring new knowledge about our closest celestial neighbour. This will also help our understanding of the history of our own fragile planet.
That the outer space is for the benefit of humanity, Indian played a key role at the UN in drafting the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, and India is among the States that signed the 1979 Moon Treaty. Our space and moon missions are for the benefit of humanity and a source of national inspiration. The two points where Chandrayaan-3 made a touchdown and Chandrayaan-2 reached the moon have been named ‘Shiv-Shakti’ and ‘Tiranga’ respectively. 23rd August will now be celebrated as National Space Day.
India’s success has shown that Lunar missions are not the exclusion of the rich.
Importance of the South Pole of the Moon
- Earlier crafts to the Moon landed in the equatorial region — the farthest any vessel has gone from the Equator was NASA’s Surveyor 7, in 1968. The terrain near the Equator is even and smooth and has fewer hills and craters. The temperature, too, is comparatively hospitable.
- The Southern Hemisphere, however, where Chandrayaan-3 landed, has a rugged environment, and temperatures can reach -200 degrees Celsius. High mountains block the sunlight and there are large tracts of permanently shadowed areas on the South Pole. India’s 2008 Chandrayaan-1 mission indicated the presence of ice on the surface there.
- These permanently shadowed craters guard the Moon’s South Pole, protecting water from evaporation and other volatile factors. These craters are believed to harbor lunar water. Lunar water could revolutionize space missions by offering rocket fuel, breathable oxygen, and hydration for future astronauts.
- Elements known to be present on the lunar surface include, among others, hydrogen (H), oxygen (O), silicon (Si), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), aluminium (Al), manganese (Mn) and titanium (Ti).
Future ISRO’s Missions
- Follow up missions of the Chandrayaan series
- The Artemis programme, the NASA-ISRO NISAR mission, joint human spaceflight to the International Space Station with NASA
- The joint lunar mission with Japan’s space agency JAXA, Chandrayaan-4 or LUPEX, to do ground survey of the actual amount of water
- Aditya L1 mission to study the sun
- Mission to Venus
- Ganganyaan – Human Space Flight
- This mission was important for India to be called an ‘equal partner’ and not a ‘borrower’, in the space technology world. Countries that are going to the moon today expect to create permanent stations in a decade or so. ISRO is at the right place at the right time and must capitalize on this opportunity to build further on its capabilities to take maximum advantage of the situation.
- Future holds the moon to act as a springboard for missions to be launched at Mars and other planets.
- With a humble beginning, ISRO is going through a transformational phase. The opening up of the space sector for private players is also a welcome and necessary development. ISRO’s capabilities will have to be enhanced as many countries will look towards it for launching their own missions.
- When it comes to extraction of minerals, the elemental composition of the surface, mineral composition of the soil, the strength of the soil will need to be gauged.
- The power complexities that the digging extraction tools require will also have to be calculated since the soil is tough but brittle and layered, with craters ranging from a few centimeters to kilometers as well as huge boulders.
- We know that the gravity on the moon is weak, a sixth of the Earth, but we have little idea about electrical or magnetic conductivity, or how temperature changes with the availability of sunlight. There is a lot of chemistry, a lot of geology, a lot of physics to be done on the moon. We need pure sciences to be encouraged again as a profession to enable the young generation to take this exploration part further. ISRO and the Indian Govt have to create public sector jobs in the organisation itself and absorb the demographic talent pool.
- Collaborative missions and joint endeavours will be a way ahead because ISRO cannot do with frugal machines going forward. We need powerful modules to make the shortest possible journeys. The Indian space programme gets many compliments for its limited budget. But frugal innovation is no longer enough for India to make a difference in global activity on the Moon. While Chandrayaan took nearly six weeks to get to the Moon, the failed Russian mission, Luna-25 arrived there in a week. China’s Chang-e-5 launched in 2020 took a week. In 1969, the US Apollo-11 mission, which landed the first
- men on the Moon, took just four days. The difference is in the power of the rockets. If India wants more impactful Moon projects, made in India, with powerful rockets that can depart and arrive quicker and with heavier payloads, then we need to invest in them.
- Time to go beyond politics, which party in power did what for ISRO. As a lesson, India should nurture scientists and engineers, and provide them opportunities, organisations and platforms, so that their talent stays in India. We need scientists, design engineers, and executors as any other nation.
By: Yogita Kadu