India makes historic moon landing as Chandrayaan-3 touches down

Days after Russia failed its mission to the south pole of the moon, India has succeeded, ITV News' Martha Fairlie reports

India's Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft has successfully landed on the moon in a historic first for the country.

It makes the country the first to land near the moon's south pole, a region covered in water-ice in some permanently shadowed areas.

This area is of particular interest to scientists as it could be used as a source of oxygen and hydrogen, which could be used for rocket fuel, according to NASA.

Anxious scientists at mission control in Bangalore cheered with relief when they had confirmation that the craft landed at 1.34pm (BST) today.

Scientists eagerly await the landing at mission control in Bangalore. Credit: AP

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi watched the historic landing from South Africa, where he is participating in the BRICS nations summit.

Waving his country's tri-coloured flag, he said: “India is now on the moon. India has reached the south pole of the moon — no other country has achieved that. We are witnessing history.”

The Vikram lander, named after Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) founder Vikram Sarabhai, is carrying a 26kg six-wheeled rover called Pragyaan - the Sanskrit word for wisdom.

They are configured to provide data to the scientific community on the properties of lunar soil and rocks, including chemical and elemental compositions.

ISRO staff celebrate the successful landing of Chandrayaan-3. Credit: AP

India is now the fourth nation to make a controlled, or soft, landing on the moon, after the US, China and the former Soviet Union.

All of the above countries, as well as Japan, Israel, the European Space Agency and exploration company Ispace have made hard landings, where crafts have crashed on the moon, often when things don't quite go to plan.

Russia's Luna-25 spacecraft was racing Chandrayaan-3 to the moon's south pole, but last week the Roscosmos space agency said it had crashed into the moon after spinning into uncontrolled orbit.

It attributed the failure to the lack of expertise due to the long break in lunar research that followed the last Soviet mission to the moon in 1976.

Schoolchildren celebrate in Guwahati. Credit: AP

Excited and anxious, people across India, home to the world’s largest population, crowded around televisions in offices, shops, restaurants and homes to watch the landing.

Thousands prayed on Tuesday for the success of the mission with oil lamps on the river banks, temples and religious places, including the holy city of Varanasi in northern India.

Chandrayaan, meaning "moon vehicle" in Sanskrit, launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, in India's southern state of Andhra Pradesh on July 14.

Indian security forces and space scientists celebrate their country's milestone. Credit: AP

Ahead of the landing, ISRO shared a series of videos and images taken of the moon's surface by the spacecraft's cameras.

One shot, taken from 43.5 miles (70 kilometres) above the moon's surface shows the Mare Marginis, a large black mark formed by ancient asteroid strikes on the very edge of the lunar nearside, CNN reports.

ISRO says the spacecraft is able to get its bearings on the moon by matching images taken by its cameras to a lunar map programmed onto a computer on board.

In an update two hours after the historic moon landing, ISRO shared images of the surface of the moon captured during the descent.

The mission marks India's second attempt to make a soft landing on the moon, with Chandrayaan-2 crashing into the lunar surface in 2019 due to software issues and difficulties breaking during its descent.

The $140-million mission in 2019 was intended to study permanently shadowed moon craters that are thought to contain water deposits and were confirmed by India’s Chandrayaan-1 orbiter mission in 2008.

ISRO says it had perfected the art of reaching the moon, “but it is the landing that the agency is working on”.

Children wave Indian flags at their school premises in Mumbai as they cheer for a successful landing. Credit: AP

In a statement, the agency said: "India’s pursuit of space exploration reaches a remarkable milestone with the impending Chandrayaan-3 Mission, poised to achieve a soft landing on the lunar surface.

"This achievement marks a significant step forward for Indian Science, Engineering, Technology, and Industry, symbolizing our nation’s progress in space exploration.''

With nuclear-armed India emerging as the world’s fifth-largest economy, prime minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist government is eager to show off the country’s prowess in security and technology.

Japan plans to launch a lunar lander to the moon over the weekend as part of an X-ray telescope mission, and two US companies also are vying to put landers on the moon by the end of the year, one of them at the south pole.

In the coming years, NASA plans to land astronauts at the lunar south pole.

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