Earlier this week, India became just the fourth country to ever land on the Moon, a historic moment in space exploration.
The Indian Space Research Organization's (ISRO) Vikram lander also became the first spacecraft to ever land near the Moon's south pole, a tantalizing opportunity to examine a region believed to be rich in water ice. Tantalizingly, that makes it a key site for future efforts to establish a permanent presence on the lunar surface.
And now, we get to watch the landing in a fascinating pair of videos released by the ISRO.
The first shows Vikram releasing a 57-pound, six-wheeled rover called Pragyaan — Sanskrit for "wisdom" — down to the lunar surface, where it's designed to explore the area for evidence of ice. The second shows Vikram already rolling across the crater-dotted surface.
It's an incredible feat that signals a new era for international space exploration. As many failed attempts have shown, softly landing a spacecraft on the lunar surface is anything but easy — and India just stuck the landing.
Space Race 2.0
Case in point, the news comes after Russia's efforts to land its Luna-25 spacecraft on the Moon ended in disaster over the weekend. The spacecraft crashed into the Moon due to an "emergency situation," foiling the country's efforts to follow up on the Soviet Union's Luna missions, which date back to the 1970s.
Moving forward, India's mission could prove once and for all what scientists have long suspected: that the Moon's craggy polar regions could hold vast stores of water, particularly in shadowed corners of its massive craters.
While it's not the first time we've seen a rover set off on the surface of the Moon, Vikram's landing could signal the beginning of a new stage of the ongoing space race. With the US and China's plans to explore the Moon well underway, India just became a big part of our future efforts to establish a permanent presence on the Moon as well, shifting the international balance of power on our planet's natural satellite.
And more countries could soon follow. Japan's space agency JAXA is already lining up an attempt to land on the Moon with its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM), which is scheduled to launch tomorrow.
More on the landing: India Just Became the Fourth Ever Country to Land on the Moon