India has made history by becoming the first country to successfully land a spacecraft, named Chandrayaan-3, near the moon’s enigmatic south pole. This remarkable achievement opens the door to uncharted territory, holding the promise of crucial reserves of frozen water. For India, the triumph marks a major technological feat for the world’s most populous nation. Following a previous unsuccessful attempt to land on the moon in 2019, India now stands shoulder to shoulder with only three other countries that have reached this significant milestone: the United States, the Soviet Union, and China.

The awe-inspiring moment occurred as the lander Vikram, carrying the rover Pragyan, gently touched down on the lunar surface at precisely 6:04 pm. The successful landing triggered exuberant celebrations across India. Notably, the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) scientists based in Bengaluru erupted in joyous cheers and applause as they witnessed the achievement they had worked tirelessly to accomplish.

Chandrayaan-3’s mission is projected to last for a span of two weeks. During this time, the rover will conduct a series of experiments, including a thorough analysis of the mineral composition of the lunar surface using a spectrometer. However, a lingering question emerges: what unfolds after the passing of these 14 Earth Days?

Exploring Chandrayaan-3’s Mission Duration
The lander Vikram and the rover Pragyan, constituting Chandrayaan-3, are both powered by solar energy. Consequently, their mission duration is determined by the availability of continuous sunlight, which is essential for their operation. Notably, each lunar day spans approximately 14 Earth days. As the latest lunar sunlight cycle commenced on August 23, ISRO strategically chose this day for the soft landing.

Following the passage of 14 Earth days, the moon transitions into another lunar night. During this phase, temperatures on the lunar surface plummet to a bone-chilling minus 180 degrees Celsius. Such extreme cold renders any technological components frozen and consequently unusable.

Timing the Lunar Day
To ensure that Chandrayaan-3 maximizes its exposure to sunlight, ISRO meticulously planned the landing to coincide with the beginning of the lunar day on August 23. Had the landing on that Wednesday been unsuccessful, ISRO had a contingency plan to attempt another landing on Thursday, August 24, still ensuring exposure to lunar sunlight. In the event of multiple failed attempts, the landing could have been postponed by 29 days to align with a fresh lunar day.

Extended Possibilities
While Chandrayaan-3’s primary mission life is confined to a single lunar day, ISRO officials remain cautiously optimistic about potential extensions. There is a chance that both the lander Vikram and the rover Pragyan could come back to life for another lunar day. S Somanath, Chairman of ISRO, asserts that the systems will remain operational as long as the sun continues to shine. He acknowledges that once the sun sets, the extreme cold will envelop the moon’s surface, making it impossible for the systems to function. Any survival beyond this point would be a remarkable turn of events, signifying the potential for further operational periods.

The Fate of Chandrayaan-3
In either scenario, none of Chandrayaan-3’s components are destined to return to Earth. Instead, they will remain on the moon, serving as silent testaments to India’s pioneering journey. The Chandrayaan-3 mission, with a budget of Rs 600 crore, was launched on July 14 using the Launch Vehicle Mark-III (LVM-3) rocket. The mission spanned 41 days, culminating in the successful soft landing near the lunar south pole. This achievement followed shortly after Russia’s Luna-25 spacecraft crashed into the moon due to loss of control.

Upon landing, the module underwent thorough internal checks and awaited the sunrise at the designated landing site. The rover Pragyan descended from the lander’s belly, using a side panel as a ramp to reach the moon’s surface. The moon’s polar regions, unexplored due to their unique challenges and environmental conditions, are now in the spotlight. Exploring the moon’s south pole is particularly significant due to the potential presence of water in perpetually shadowed regions nearby.

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