Above: Chandrayaan-3’s Vikram lander on the Moon, captured by the Pragyan rover. Credit: ISRO
India nailed its first lunar landing on the second try. Chandrayaan-3 touched down at the lunar south pole—a never-before visited region of the Moon—on August 23, marking a historic milestone for India and human space exploration.
Now roughly half-way through its two-week mission, Chandryaan-3’s lander and rover duo have been busy scouting the lunar surface in a region of great scientific interest for spacefaring nations. The south pole is thought to contain copious amounts of frozen water that could support future human missions to the lunar surface and beyond, providing the building blocks for breathable air, drinking water, and rocket fuel. Temperature readings taken by the Vikram lander are already showing signs that liquid or frozen water could potentially lie beneath the surface, but further study is needed for confirmation.
Meanwhile, the six-wheeled, solar-powered Pragyan rover has been busy capturing photos and video of its surroundings, returning science data about its environment at a slow crawl across the dusty lunar surface. The rover has so far detected the presence of sulfur, aluminum, iron, calcium, chromium, titanium, manganese, oxygen, and silicon. Studying the Moon’s mineralogy will give researchers a clearer picture of how our nearest neighbor formed and evolved over time.
The mission plans to run the course of a full lunar day (14 Earth days) before the merciless cold of the lunar night sets in. Once darkness falls and solar power is unavailable, the lander and rover are expected to permanently shut down amid extreme temperatures dipping as low as -280°F. However, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) engineers remain optimistic the duo’s hardware will survive and continue to operate once the lunar day returns.
Whatever the outcome, Chandrayaan-3 is already a groundbreaking mission exploring uncharted territory and representing the beginning steps of lunar surface research needed to help establish a human presence on the Moon.