It’s been almost four years since India’s last attempt to land on the moon, Chandrayaan-2, ended in a crash. On Wednesday, India is hoping that the uncrewed Chandrayaan-3 mission will reach the lunar surface in one piece.
The Indian people and government feel great pride for their nation’s surging space program. But the stakes for Wednesday’s landing attempt have been amplified by the crash on Saturday of Luna-25, a lunar lander from Russia that was to set down in the same region of the moon as Chandrayaan-3. If India achieves a landing just after Russia failed, it will highlight the technological accomplishments of the world’s most populous country.
When is the landing and how can I watch it?
The Chandrayaan-3 landing module is expected to reach the moon’s surface on Wednesday at 8:34 a.m. Eastern time (it will be 6:04 p.m. in India).
The nation’s space program, the Indian Space Research Organization, will provide a livestream from the mission control room in Bengaluru. You can watch it on ISRO’s YouTube channel or website starting at 7:50 a.m. Eastern.
What is Chandrayaan-3?
Chandrayaan means “moon craft” in Hindi. In addition to the propulsion module that pushed the spacecraft into orbit around the moon, the landing module consists of the Vikram lander and the Pragyan rover that will attempt to set down on the lunar surface in the moon’s south polar region. The mission is robotic and there are no astronauts aboard.
Why is India landing on the moon?
India’s space program is a source of national pride, as is the country’s growing cadre of commercial space start-ups. India’s recent efforts in space exploration also closely mirror the country’s diplomatic push as an ambitious power on the rise.
“Thanks to our scientists, India has a very rich history in the space sector,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi after Chandrayaan-3’s launch to the moon last month. “This remarkable mission will carry the hopes and dreams of our nation.”
But Chandrayaan-3 is also taking place amid renewed interest in exploring the moon. The United States and China are both aiming to send astronauts there in the coming years, and there are more robotic missions from Japan and the United States that could head there this year. Like India, many other lunar missions are aiming for the moon’s south polar region. Scientists believe it may contain water ice that could be used by astronauts in the future.
What will happen during the landing?
Chandrayaan-3 launched on July 14 on a slow but fuel-saving journey. It entered lunar orbit on Aug. 5, and has since been shifting its orbit closer to the lunar surface in preparation for landing.
The lander is in an elliptical orbit of the moon, swinging as close as about 15 miles above the surface. On Wednesday at around 8:15 a.m. Eastern time, ISRO says the spacecraft will fire its engines to bring Vikram out of orbit and begin a descent to the surface. The engines will further brake its fall, with a soft landing hoped for around 20 minutes later.
Political and economic stakes
A successful mission would make India only the fourth country to successfully land on the moon, after the former USSR, the United States and China, and mark its emergence as a space power, just ahead of national elections next year.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is also looking to spur investment in private space launches and related satellite-based businesses.
India wants its private space companies to increase their share of the global launch market by fivefold within the next decade.
Modi said when the moon mission launched that ISRO was writing “a new chapter in India’s space odyssey” and elevating “the dreams and ambitions of every Indian.”
ISRO plans to telecast the planned landing starting from 1720 IST (1150 GMT) on Wednesday.