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India aims to join exclusive club with Friday’s moon mission

The Indian Space Research Organization's lunar lander for the Chanrayaan-3 mission.
The Indian Space Research Organization’s lunar lander for the Chandrayaan-3 mission. Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) / Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)

India is just days away from launching what it hopes will be a historic lunar mission.

If it manages to safely set down its uncrewed lunar lander, it will become only the fourth nation to achieve a soft moon landing, following in the footsteps of the U.S., China, and the Soviet Union.

The Chandrayaan-3 mission will launch at 2:35 pm local time (5:05 a.m. ET) on Friday, July 14, from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre about 1,000 miles (1,650 kilometers) south of New Delhi. The moon landing is scheduled to take place around August 23.

NASA’s Indian equivalent, ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation), is aiming to land the spacecraft near the moon’s South Pole, an area of scientific interest that has yet to be explored in great detail. If it can demonstrate a safe landing system, the mission will set about investigating lunar seismicity and other elements of the nearby environment.

India’s first two moon missions offered mixed results. The Chandrayaan-2 mission in 2019 failed to set down a lander in a controlled manner, though the mission’s orbiter continues to circle the celestial body.

In an earlier flight in 2008, the Chandrayaan-1 mission delivered a probe to the lunar surface in a rapid but controlled descent. Data from the probe confirmed the presence of frozen water deposits in the lunar soil.

Other countries have tried and failed to perform a controlled landing on the lunar surface. Israel was unable to achieve the feat in 2019 — the same year as India’s last attempt — while more recently a privately funded mission by Japanese startup ispace faced issues in the final moments, causing the vehicle to crash land on the lunar surface.

In another example of India’s growing interest in space exploration, the nation is planning to launch its maiden crewed flight in 2025, sending several astronauts to low-Earth orbit for about a week.

For now, though, all eyes are on Friday’s flight. India will be hoping it’s learned all the lessons from its last mission so that it can finally achieve its first controlled, soft landing on the moon next month.

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Trevor Mogg
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