Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Chandrayaan-3 landing made history for India – what is it set to discover; who are the brains behind the mission?

In the evening of August 23, India became the first country to have landed on the South Pole of the moon and the fourth country in history to have done a soft landing on the moon

Samidha Jain
Published: Aug 24, 2023 03:11:58 PM IST
Updated: Aug 24, 2023 03:48:10 PM IST

Chandrayaan-3 landing made history for India – what is it set to discover; who are the brains behind the mission?Chandryaan-3 made a soft landing on the surface of the moon on August 23, 2023. Image: Nehru Planetarium (Representative image)

The world will remember August 23, 2023. And with it, it’ll remember India and the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). With its third lunar mission Chandryaan-3 making a soft landing on the surface of the moon, India became the fourth nation after the US, China, and Russia to have achieved that feat.

On landing on the moon's surface, Chandrayaan-3 deployed a rover named Pragyan, which is derived from a Sanskrit word meaning wisdom. The six-wheeled rover is designed to study the surface of the moon. Pragyan is set to conduct essential examinations for multiple elements present on the lunar surface, including but not limited to magnesium, silicon, potassium, calcium, and iron. Its role also encompasses aiding in comprehending the moon's atmosphere, researching its variations, and analysing its day/night patterns. A part of the rover’s mission is also to investigate Moon dust – also known as regolith, which constitutes a covering layer over the underlying solid rock – for which the rover will employ lasers to induce its melting, enabling the analysis of the gases released during this process.

The dark side of the moon

Chandrayaan-3 landed on the South Pole of the moon which is considered a very tricky side of the moon. The South Pole—far from the equatorial region targeted by previous missions, including the crewed Apollo landings—is full of craters and deep trenches. India and Russia were in a race to attempt landing on this unexplored area. However, Russia’s lunar mission, Luna-25, remained unsuccessful.

Water on the moon

As per the World Economic Forum, scientific interest lies in finding water ice deposits on the moon as they hold the potential to offer insights into lunar volcanic activity, substances transported to Earth by comets and asteroids, and the origins of Earth's oceans. Chandrayaan-3 is tasked with finding the possibility of substantial quantities of water ice, and if it is found, it could serve as a viable source of potable water for lunar exploration endeavours and aid in equipment cooling. Furthermore, water ice could be disintegrated to generate hydrogen for fuel and oxygen for breathing purposes, thus supporting missions to Mars or lunar mining operations.

Key people behind Chandrayaan-3

S Somanath, chairman, ISRO

Chandrayaan-3 landing made history for India – what is it set to discover; who are the brains behind the mission?S Somanath, chairman, ISRO. Image: Getty Images

Assuming the role of ISRO Chairman  in January 2022, S Somanath has emerged as a central figure in India's ambitious lunar mission. Prior to this, he held leadership roles at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) and the Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre, both key institutions dedicated to advancing rocket technologies for ISRO. With expertise in launch vehicle system engineering, his contributions to Chandrayaan-3 encompassed various aspects such as overall architecture, propulsion stage design, structural and structural dynamics design, separation systems, vehicle integration, and the development of integration procedures.

P Veeramuthuvel, project director, Chandrayaan-3
Veeramuthuvel assumed the role of project director for Chandrayaan-3 in 2019. He is a PhD holder, and is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. He succeeded M Vanitha, who previously held the position of project director for the Chandrayaan-2 mission under the leadership of former ISRO Chief K Sivan. Prior to this, Veeramuthuvel served as deputy director at the space infrastructure programme office within ISRO's central headquarters.

S Unnikrishnan Nair, the Head of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC)

Chandrayaan-3 landing made history for India – what is it set to discover; who are the brains behind the mission?S Unnikrishnan Nair, the Head of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC). Image: Getty Images

VSSC played a key role in the development of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark-III, later recognised as Launch Vehicle Mark-III. In his capacity as VSSC's leader, S Unnikrishnan Nair, along with his team, is responsible for supervising multiple pivotal facets of this crucial undertaking.

M Sankaran, chief of the UR Rao Satellite Centre (URSC)
In 2021, M Sankaran took on the mantle of director at the U R Rao Satellite Centre (URSC). In this capacity, he heads a dedicated team entrusted with the creation of satellites tailored to fulfil a wide array of Indian requirements, encompassing communication, navigation, remote sensing, weather prediction, and planetary exploration. The URSC holds the responsibility of conceptualising and building all of India's satellites for ISRO.

K Kalpana, associate project director, Chandrayaan-3

Chandrayaan-3 landing made history for India – what is it set to discover; who are the brains behind the mission?K Kalpana, associate project director, Chandrayaan-3. Image: Getty Images

K Kalpana holds the esteemed position of associate project director, Chandrayaan-3. Kalpana, who was also part of the Mangalyaan mission, brought her expertise and dedication to the project which led to a successful execution of the project's landing and will aid in its further objectives. After the mission's success on August 23, she stood before the nation at ISRO and said, “…this will remain the most memorable moment for all of us…from the day we started rebuilding our spacecraft after the Chandrayaan 2 experience, it has been breathe in-breathe out Chandrayaan 3 for the team.”​