A Historic & Perfect Touchdown: Chandrayaan-3

A Historic & Perfect Touchdown: Chandrayaan-3

On August 23, 2023, at 6.04PM, IST, most of India glued to its screens erupted in joy and celebrations. Chandrayaan-3, India’s probe mission to the moon, made a perfect soft landing on the lunar south pole, making India the first country to land on the dark side of the moon. While the rocket launch happened on July 14, 2023, the shuttle took multi-orbit manoeuvres and entered lunar orbit on August 5, 2023. The soft landing on 23rd August then delivered the first images from the south pole of the moon. Previously, India landed the first probe mission in 2008, making it the fourth country in the world to place its flag on the moon.

For India, this journey to the dark side of the moon has been long and arduous. Right from carting rocket parts on cycles to the launch pad, India’s space exploration program was seen as an over-ambitious bid for an under-developed country in the 1960s. But the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has time and again proved itself nothing less than the NASA or any other international space agency. Even in the beginning, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, former Chairman of ISRO, emphasised the importance of a space program for a country like India.

"There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned spaceflight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society."

Dr. Vikram Sarabhai

And it is true, India’s space missions have aided in improvements in agriculture, communication technology and energy programs which have benefited crores of Indians over the last 5-6 generations. Particularly, India’s space scientists have accomplished so much and more at economic competence far superior than other countries. Chandrayaan-3 cost all of Rs. 615 crore, i.e., around USD 75 million. This is not even one-tenth of the budget of Sci-Fi Hollywood movies that have recently captured the world’s imagination.

Further, the image of the ISRO scientists celebrating the landing of the probe mission, is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Typical women dressed in Indian attire such as sarees and salwar-kurta and the men, complete with tilaks and chandan, filled the ISRO monitoring centre. Even before the launch of the Mission on July 14, the Chairman, Shri S. Somnath and a team of the scientists were seen visiting temples and placing a model of the Chandrayaan-3 at the sanctum sanctorum for blessings. It may confuse the world, but Bharatiya culture has always believed that science and spirituality go hand-in-hand.

In a previous interview, Shri Somnath without mincing words said, “Algebra, square roots, concepts of time, architecture, the structure of the universe, metallurgy, even aviation were first found in the Vedas, travelled to Europe through Arab countries, and were subsequently posited as discoveries of scientists of the western world.” He reiterated that India can take science and spirituality together. Chandrayaan-3 came from the minds and hearts of scientists who continue to embody that spirit. 

The Chandrayaan-3’s launch has come almost four years after the partial failure of the Chandrayaan-2, sent to space on July 22, 2019, whose lander, Vikram, and rover, Pragyaan, crashed on the Moon’s surface during the early hours of September 7, 2019. Just as India watched the orbiter slowly and gradually land on the moon’s surface, one could not help but think of Former Chairman Shri K. Sivan, who broke down while being embraced by PM Shri Narendra Modi in September 2019.

This time, however, ISRO was prepared for the worst. They had learnt massively from the failures of Chandrayaan-2. Shri Somnath stated, ‘If everything fails, if all the sensors fail, nothing works, still it (Vikram) will make a landing. That’s how it has been designed — provided that the propulsion system works well. We have also made sure that if two of the engines (in Vikram) don’t work this time also, it will still be able to land.’

And true to his words, the world watched India script history by becoming the first nation to reach the lunar south pole. In the aftermath of the event, both the Prime Minister and the Chairman revealed that India now harbours plans to explore Venus and the solar orbits too. However, at this juncture, most of India is united by the resounding message of the ISRO orbiter, 'I reached my destination and you too!' Congratulations to ISRO, and congratulations, India!

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Chinmaya Udghosh