India becomes the first country to land on the lunar South Pole and the fourth to land on the Moon

India becomes fourth country to land a spacecraft

India achieved the first automatic spacecraft descent near the lunar south pole on Wednesday, a historic triumph for the world’s most populous country and its ambitious low-cost space program.

The Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft, which means “moon craft” in Sanskrit, landed on the moon at 6:04 p.m. in India (1234 GMT), to applause from engineers.

This successful moon landing comes a few days after a Russian probe crashed in the same region, and four years after the previous Indian attempt failed at the last minute.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi smiled as he waved an Indian flag on live TV to announce the success of the mission.

“On this happy occasion I would like to address the people of the world,” Modi said on the sidelines of the BRICS diplomatic summit in South Africa.

The success of India’s lunar mission is not India’s alone,” he added. “This success belongs to all of humanity.”

The Chandrayaan-3 mission captured public attention since its liftoff six weeks ago in front of thousands of excited onlookers.

Politicians held Hindu prayer rituals to wish the mission a success, and in schools, students watched the last moments of the landing broadcast live.

Chandrayaan-3 took much longer to reach the Moon than the US Apollo missions in the 1960s and 1970s, which reached the moon in a few days.

India used less powerful rockets than those used by the United States then, so the probe had to orbit the Earth several times to gain speed before heading to the Moon.

The Vikram lander, Sanskrit for courage, separated from the propulsion module last week and has been returning images of the lunar surface since it entered orbit on August 5.

Now that Vikram has landed on the moon, a solar-powered rover will explore the surface and transmit data back to Earth during its two-week autonomy.

Ambitious program 

India has a low-cost aerospace program compared to other powers, but it has grown remarkably since it sent its first spacecraft to orbit the Moon in 2008.

The budget for this mission is $74.6 million, proof of India’s frugal space engineering.

Experts say it achieves these low costs by copying and adapting existing space technology and taking advantage of the abundance of highly-trained engineers who charge far less than their foreign counterparts.

In 2014, India became the first Asian nation to put a satellite into orbit around Mars and plans to launch a three-day manned mission in Earth orbit next year.

Wednesday’s success was highly anticipated by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) following the frustrating failure of its previous mission in 2019, when it lost contact with the Chandrayaan-2 lunar module moments before its scheduled landing.

K. Sivan, the former head of ISRO, said India’s exploration of the moon’s relatively unknown south pole will be a “very, very important” contribution to scientific knowledge.

Only Russia, the United States and China have managed to carry missions to the surface of the Moon.

Russia launched its first lunar mission in almost half a century earlier this month, but the Luna-25 probe crashed while attempting to land on the moon.

Had it succeeded, Russia would have become, by just a few days’ lead, the first nation to reach the polar region.