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HomeEditorialsExpress View on Chandrayaan-3: Asking for the Moon, and getting it

Express View on Chandrayaan-3: Asking for the Moon, and getting it

THE successful landing of Chandrayaan-3 on the Moon is one of the most defining moments in India’s history. It consolidates its position as a space power. India is one of the four countries to accomplish a soft landing on the lunar surface, and the first to do so near the Moon’s South Pole. Just like the implications of the nuclear tests, for instance, went far beyond nuclear or military affairs, the ramifications of Chandrayaan-3’s success are not restricted to matters of space. ISRO’s successful mission adds yet another dimension to India’s increasing global heft, across sectors.

The fact that India made it in the second attempt does not take anything away from the achievement. On the contrary, it underlines the resilience, commitment and character of the space agency. There is not one major space-faring nation that has not encountered spectacular failure. But ISRO has shown tremendous tenacity to overcome setbacks, learn from failure and bounce back stronger, all in about four years. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi put it eloquently, from South Africa, where he is participating in the BRICS meeting, “this day signifies how victory is achieved from the lessons of defeat”. It sets an example: “I am confident that all countries in the world, including those from the global south are capable of achieving such feats. We can all aspire for the Moon and beyond”, the PM said.

ONLY ABOUT 60 per cent of lunar probe missions have been successful in the past six decades. Several government agencies and private space companies have attempted to land on the Moon but before Chandrayaan-3’s success, its surface had been hostile to all missions after 1976, except three Chinese ventures. At most places, the Moon is an inhospitable and unwelcoming descent pad for a spacecraft. It has gravity about a sixth of Earth’s, its surface is covered by a layer of dust many metres thick and also jagged and abrasive like broken shards of glass. Craters and boulders make the landing even more perilous.

Earlier crafts to the Moon landed in the equatorial region — the farthest that any vessel has gone from the Equator was NASA’s Surveyor 7, in 1968. This is for good reason. The terrain near the Equator is even and smooth and there are fewer hills and craters. The temperature, too, is comparatively hospitable. The Southern Hemisphere, where Chandrayaan-3 landed, has a rugged environment, and temperatures can go down to -200 degrees Celsius. It has craters ranging from a few centimetres to thousands of kilometres. High mountains block the sunlight and there are large tracts of permanently shadowed areas on the South Pole. It is also home to volatile elements and there are indications — including from India’s 2008 Chandrayaan-1 mission — that the Southern Hemisphere has substantial amounts of ice. The extremely cold temperatures mean that anything trapped in the region would remain frozen in time, without undergoing much change. Now the ISRO’s audacious venture can provide substantial insights into the history of the solar system and open up a new chapter in the world’s space odyssey.

In June, India became a signatory to the Artemis Accords that lay out the framework of a new era of space exploration. One of the goals is increasing forays to the lunar surface. Chandrayaan-3 could lead the way for future Artemis explorations.

AS ISRO scientists, past and present, have often underlined, Chandrayaan-3, even as it is an important turning point, is part of a journey that has only just begun. Of course, it marks a directional shift in India’s space programme. Having attended to the country’s developmental needs and benefited from commercial launches, it has now decisively turned its focus to planetary exploration and deep space missions.

India has not yet announced follow-up missions in the Chandrayaan series, but these are certainly on the design boards. Meanwhile, there is a mission to the Sun, and another one to Venus, apart from the human spaceflight, on its own and in collaboration with NASA. Each one of them will demonstrate a new capability, and add further weight to ISRO’s profile.

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There will be other tangible benefits from the success of Chandrayaan-3. It can profoundly burnish India’s image as a technology destination for young talent. Space science is already emerging as a preferred alternative to information technology for the brightest minds in the country, especially with the opening of the space sector to private industry that has seen a proliferation of start-ups in the last few years. The credibility that is built with missions like Chandrayaan-3 is sure to rub off on these start-ups as well, and open up business opportunities for them within and outside India. In fact, space technologies are already one of the most aggressively marketed offerings in India’s diplomatic dealings with other countries. And some of the most sought after.

Compared to other powers, India has a comparatively low-budget aero-space programme. But the efficiency and cost-effectiveness with which ISRO carries out its projects have helped in building a formidable brand name for the space agency. Chandrayaan-3 was accomplished at a cost of Rs 615 crore (a fraction of the cost of an Airbus) — Russia’s Luna 25 which crashed last Sunday came with a price tag of Rs 1,600 crore and China’s shot at the Moon cost more than Rs 1,700 crore.

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The mission’s success will inspire generations of scientists and engineers – and all those who seek knowledge — to set the bar higher. For India, the Moon is not the destination. It is a springboard.

© The Indian Express (P) Ltd

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