India lands spacecraft near south pole of moon in world first

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Vikram lander touches down at lunar south pole shortly after 6pm India time

India has become the first country to successfully land a spacecraft near the south pole of the moon, in a historic moment that drew cheers at watching parties around the country.

The Chandrayaan-3, which means “mooncraft” in Sanskrit, put down its Vikram lander shortly after 6pm (1230 GMT) near the little-explored lunar south pole in a world first for any space programme.

For India, the successful landing marks its emergence as a space power as the government looks to spur investment in private space launches and related satellite-based businesses.

People across the country were glued to television screens and said prayers as the spacecraft approached the surface. The country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, watched the landing from South Africa, where he is attending the Brics summit.

The mission launched nearly six weeks ago in front of thousands of cheering spectators, taking much longer to reach the moon than those of the Apollo missions in the 1960s and 1970s, which arrived in a matter of days.

India is using rockets much less powerful than the US did back then. Instead, the probe orbited Earth several times to gain speed before embarking on its month-long lunar trajectory.

Rough terrain makes a south pole landing difficult. The region’s water ice could supply fuel, oxygen and drinking water for future missions.

This was India’s second attempt to land a spacecraft on the moon. In 2019, ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 mission successfully deployed an orbiter but its lander crashed.

On Monday Russia said its first moon mission in 47 years – which also targeted the south pole – had failed after its Luna-25 spacecraft spun out of control and crashed into the moon.

A six-wheeled rover is scheduled to roam the lunar surface gathering images and data.

The Chandrayaan-3 is expected to remain functional for two weeks, running a series of experiments including a spectrometer analysis of the mineral composition of the lunar surface.


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