India is just a couple of days away from attempting a historic soft landing on the moon, which, if successful, would see it join an elite club alongside the U.S., China, and the former Soviet Union.
This week’s attempted touchdown will come just a few days after Russia’s Luna-25 mission ended in failure when the spacecraft crashed onto the lunar surface in the country’s first moon mission since 1976.
India is aiming to land its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft near the moon’s South Pole, which is an area of great scientific interest and has yet to be explored in detail. A successful landing will allow scientists to investigate the moon’s composition and other elements of the nearby environment.
Following Russia’s failed mission and difficulties with its own lunar missions in recent years, India is under no illusion as to the scale of the challenge involved in a successful lunar landing.
Its 2019 Chandrayaan-2 mission failed to safely put down the lander, though the mission’s orbiter continues to circle the celestial body. Before that, the Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008 delivered a probe to the lunar surface in a rapid but controlled descent, and data from the probe confirmed the presence of frozen water deposits in the lunar soil.
Water deposits are of particular interest to scientists from all of the leading space agencies as they could be processed to provide drinking water and oxygen for long-term crewed moon missions, as well as fuel for rocket launches from the lunar surface to places like Mars.
Both Israel and Japan have also suffered failures in trying to safely place a lander on the lunar surface. The most recent of these attempts took place earlier this year in which Japanese startup ispace attempted to become the first privately funded group to achieve the feat. But in the final moments, its spacecraft experienced issues that led to a crash landing on the moon’s surface.
India’s current Chandrayaan-3 mission was given a boost in recent days when the spacecraft beamed back its first images of the lunar surface soon after it entered orbit around our nearest neighbor.
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