India's first attempt failed and Russia has also crashed a lander on the water-rich south pole.
"India is now on the moon," said Indian prime Minister Narendra Modi as engineers celebrated on Wednesday.
India on Wednesday achieved a historic feat in the history of space exploration: landing a robot on the moon's south pole.
"India is now on the moon," said Indian prime Minister Narendra Modi from South Africa, as engineers celebrated the nation's Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft landing on the south pole of the moon.
With the landing, India became the first country to touch down on what is thought to be the most water-rich region on the moon — a feat that has stumped Russia, which crashed its lander on the moon Saturday.
Watch the livestream of the mission in its final moments, with mission control erupting in applause and Prime Minister Narendra Modi cracking a smile as the lander touches down:
And a CGI rendering of what the landing could have looked like:
The landing means India beat Russia, China and the US, who have all announced missions to the south pole.
Whoever can mine that water-ice and break it down into oxygen and hydrogen, will then have the resources to lead future space exploration including building crewed bases on the moon and manufacturing rocket fuel for missions to Mars and beyond.
This is "a pretty significant achievement," Robert Braun, head of the Space Exploration Center at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, told Insider.
India and Russia tried and failed
Russia was the latest nation to fumble a lunar south-pole landing.
During a maneuver to push itself into an orbit that would carry it to its descent, the Luna-25 spacecraft fired its engines for too long, Roscosmos reported.
The agency lost contact with the spacecraft on Saturday and determined that it crashed into the moon.
Luna-25 joins the wreckage of India's failed first attempt.
If first you don't succeed try, try, again
The landing attempt was India's second try.
Its space agency sent its first craft to the moon's south pole in September 2019. The Chandrayaan-2 mission dropped a lander called Vikram toward the lunar surface.
On its descent, just 1.3 miles above the moon's surface, the Vikram lander diverged from its intended path and lost communication with operators on Earth.
Later, NASA's lunar orbiter spotted the wreckage of Vikram on the moon below. India took another swing with Chandrayaan-3, and it worked.
As with any descent and landing operation, hundreds of pre-programmed actions had to go perfectly, in the correct sequence, for the spacecraft to make it to the surface intact and functioning.
"Spaceflight is hard, and landing on another planetary surface is among the hardest things that we do in spaceflight. So it's the hardest of the hard," said Braun, who has worked on landing and descent teams for multiple NASA missions to Mars.
Correction August 23, 2023: An earlier version of this article misstated how many countries tried to land on the lunar south pole. Two countries have attempted this feat so far: India and Russia. Only India has succeeded. This post has also been updated to reflect the outcome of the Chandrayaan-3 moon landing. It was originally published on August 22, 2023.
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