DC Edit | On way to the moon, with India's prayers
India’s pride in taking another ‘moonshot’ is in the air now and a spacecraft is on its way to a lunar orbit. It was always believed that a good start is half the job done, but in this case the far trickier part remains. Landing the rover on the surface of the moon is the challenge ahead whose result we will not know until about August 23 when the sun rises on the moon for a long lunar day.
If the lessons of Chandrayaan-1 and 2 have been learnt and have led the redesigning on the drawing board, there should be room for much optimism on this mission succeeding in soft-landing the lander, with its four engines with throttles, and containing the rover whose exploratory journey on the moon will last just one lunar day or 14 earth days.
A soft landing is all too critical considering it is a necessary precursor to sending Indian astronauts to the Moon, aboard the much-anticipated Gaganyaan mission. There was a well of sympathy for our dedicated scientists when the Chandrayaan-2 crash landed in 2019 as this difficult mission that only three nations — the US, Russia, and China — have cracked thus far is known to be hazardous.
What they have done to give themselves a better chance now is impressive, with the lander having been endowed with stronger legs and the mission additional ability to scout sites and pick an ideal landing spot somewhere near the Moon’s south pole. Even so, there is no knowing how effective it is until the soft landing is achieved.
Chandrayaan-3’s lander has hazard detection and avoidance systems based on cameras for safe landing and for the rover to then move on the Moon’s surface. All improvements are based on the experience of the first two missions in 2008 and 2019. On the first it was possible only to let the spacecraft thud on to the surface and on the second a navigation malfunction in the propulsion system led to the crash landing that rendered the lander and rover useless whereas the orbiter continued its lonely journeys around the Moon and contributed invaluable scientific data.
It is fingers crossed as the nation with an array of projects on the anvil – from a mission to the Sun to joining Nasa in sending astronauts to the International Space Station strives to validate its capabilities and satisfy its aspirations to be the next big player in space after the old and new superpowers and claim its place in the forefront of scientific developments.
Since space was thrown open to private players, there has been added interest, as well as investments, to take a shot at cutting edge technology to conquer spaces far beyond us that help in putting the earth’s dwarfish stature in the Universe in proper perspective. With projects to Mars and beyond planned in tandem with Nasa in the future in the wake of India signing the Artemis Accords, the United States will also be taking an even greater interest in Chandrayaan-3’s soft landing.
What should tickle the imagination is the Artemis programme also envisages a long-term human presence on earth’s moon even as longer manned space voyages are being planned in the decades to come. India, with its price-conscious and economic way of doing things even in space programmes, is in for exciting collaborations for the benefit of mankind. Let us just say that India has truly arrived on the space scene, a presence that can only grow with the anticipated soft landing.