Last week marked a monumental achievement for India, as it became the first nation to land a craft near the largely uncharted lunar south pole, joining an exclusive club of countries that have successfully reached the Moon’s surface.
The Chandrayaan-3 mission, with its Pragyan rover, has been focused on analyzing the composition of the Moon’s surface near the south pole. A region that holds significant interest due to its potential for future lunar bases.
Key Discoveries and Instruments
The heart of India’s recent lunar achievements lies in the Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) instrument aboard the Chandrayaan-3’s Vikram rover. The LIBS, through its unique capability of turning materials into plasma with laser light, has been instrumental in the identification of several elements on the lunar surface. These elements include:
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), in its recent statements, emphasized the importance of this discovery, noting that two of the elements—sulphur and oxygen—are among the essential building blocks of known life. The LIBS, however, does not provide information on the molecular combination of these elements. A key goal of the mission is to find signs of hydrogen, a vital component of water. No traces of hydrogen have been identified yet, but ISRO confirms that investigations are in progress.
Implications of the Findings
These discoveries have far-reaching implications for the future of lunar exploration and habitation. Transporting materials to the Moon is a costly venture. Thus, the ability to source materials on-site, like the elements discovered by the Chandrayaan-3, makes establishing a long-term presence on the lunar surface more viable.
Specifically, the discovery of sulphur can lead to the creation of lunar concrete, reducing dependency on less accessible Earth-based ingredients like Portland Cement.
Challenges and Achievements of the Rover
Despite the groundbreaking discoveries, the journey for the Pragyan rover hasn’t been without challenges. On August 27, 2023, the rover faced a potential obstacle—a 4-meter diameter crater in its path. But with guidance from Earth, the rover was navigated safely to continue its exploration.
The Pragyan rover, translating to “Wisdom” in Sanskrit, will continue its exploration for two weeks, transmitting invaluable data back to Earth.
ISRO’s Growing Stature in Space Exploration
The success of the Chandrayaan-3 comes as a significant rebound for India’s space ambitions. Four years prior, a previous lunar mission faced failure during its descent. Yet, with resilience and innovation, India has bounced back, captivating global attention with Chandrayaan-3’s success, especially following the unfortunate crash of a Russian lander in the same lunar region.
India’s space achievements are not limited to the Moon. In 2014, ISRO made history by becoming the first Asian nation to put a craft into Martian orbit. Further elevating its stature in space exploration, ISRO plans:
- A sun-focused probe set to launch this September.
- A three-day crewed mission to Earth’s orbit by next year.
- A joint mission with Japan targeting the Moon by 2025.
- An ambitious orbital mission to Venus within the next two years.
The Chandrayaan-3’s discoveries and the continuous growth of ISRO signify a new era of space exploration, with India pioneering a cost-effective approach to unlock the mysteries of our solar system.