Having written about the ups and downs of India’s past Chandrayaan missions in my second book – Imaging Our Solar System – it was with great anticipation that I followed the Chandrayaan-3 mission and its attempt to touch down on the lunar surface on the 23rd of August. And so, it was with these words, “We have achieved soft landing on the moon,” that S. Somanath, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), confirmed the success of India’s latest and boldest mission to the moon (a Russian lander crashed in the same region just a few days prior showcasing the usual adage that ‘space is hard’).
In recent years, India has emerged as a notable player with its recent successful Mars mission - Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) or Mangalyaan - and this latest achievement shows that it can do more as the Chandrayaan-3 mission involved a multi-phase approach, including an orbiter, a lander, and a rover named Pragyan, each equipped with specialized instruments for data collection and analysis.
The most exciting aspect of the Chandrayaan-3 mission is of course its location: the Moon’s South Pole, a region of immense intrigue and scientific significance, which has captivated researchers and space exploration enthusiasts alike. Distinctive characteristics of the South Pole include the presence of permanently shadowed regions within craters that have remained untouched by sunlight for aeons. These areas are of great interest due to the possibility of containing water ice, which could serve as a valuable resource for future lunar exploration and potentially beyond, as well as ‘trapping’ other volatile molecules.
With Pragyan now roaming the landing site and returning the distinctive grey images inherent to lunar missions, and China’s Chang’e 6 lunar sample return mission at the South Pole–Aitken basin (the holy grail in lunar research) planned for next year, it is safe to say that this decade will be a fascinating one for robotic lunar exploration and planetary science thanks to the two space powerhouses from Asia.
In due course, India and China will likely possess both the political and technological capacity to put forth a program akin to NASA's Artemis initiative (which boasts the support of six partner agencies) enabling them to achieve the feat of sending astronauts to the lunar expanse as well. As such, these missions will bring about transformative changes in technology, planetary science, and, most significantly, culture. Imagine a future where, in addition to apple pies, space explorers will most likely be enjoying biryani and Peking duck on the Moon by the mid-21st century.
I raise a toast to India's latest success and the future of space cuisine. Onwards and upwards.