India’s lunar rover has concluded its exploration on the moon’s surface and has been placed in sleep mode, marking a significant milestone in the nation’s space endeavors. This development occurred less than two weeks after the rover’s historic landing near the lunar south pole, as confirmed by India’s space mission.
In an official statement released on a Saturday evening, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) reported, “The rover completes its assignments. It is now safely parked and set into sleep mode.” This decision was influenced by the impending lunar nightfall, as daylight on that part of the moon was coming to an end.
The ISRO statement further revealed that the rover’s scientific instruments had been powered down, and the data it diligently gathered during its lunar expedition had been successfully transmitted to Earth through the lander.
Originally, the Chandrayaan-3 lander and rover were expected to function for a single lunar day, equivalent to 14 days on Earth. In a hopeful note, the statement mentioned the current status of the rover’s battery, stating, “Currently, the battery is fully charged. The solar panel is oriented to receive the light at the next sunrise expected on September 22, 2023. The receiver is kept on. Hoping for a successful awakening for another set of assignments!”
Despite the success in various aspects of the mission, there was no mention in the statement regarding the outcome of the rover’s mission to search for signs of frozen water on the lunar surface. Such discoveries could prove crucial for future astronaut missions, serving as a potential source of drinking water or even the production of rocket fuel.
Just a week prior, the space agency had announced a significant discovery by the rover, confirming the presence of sulfur and identifying several other elements on the lunar surface. The rover’s laser-induced spectroscope instrument had also detected the presence of aluminum, iron, calcium, chromium, titanium, manganese, oxygen, and silicon.
However, the mission wasn’t without its challenges. The Indian Express newspaper reported that the electronic components on board the Indian lunar mission were not designed to endure the extreme low temperatures experienced on the moon, dropping to less than -120 degrees Celsius (-184 degrees Fahrenheit) during the lunar night, which spans approximately 14 days on Earth.
Pallava Bagla, a renowned science writer and co-author of books focusing on India’s space exploration, emphasized the rover’s limited battery power. He noted that while the data had safely made its way back to Earth, the rover’s ability to wake up during the next lunar sunrise remained uncertain, as the electronic circuits and components weren’t equipped to withstand the moon’s frigid conditions. Bagla remarked, “Making electronic circuits and components that can survive the deep cold temperature of the moon, that technology doesn’t exist in India.”
India’s achievement in successfully deploying a rover to the lunar surface came after a previous attempt to land on the moon in 2019 had encountered difficulties. This recent success positioned India alongside the United States, the Soviet Union, and China as the fourth nation to accomplish this remarkable feat.
This triumphant mission not only signifies India’s growing prominence in the realms of technology and space exploration but also aligns with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aspirations to project India as an ascendant nation, asserting its position among the global elite.
This multifaceted mission commenced over a month ago and was executed with an estimated budget of $75 million. India’s success on the lunar surface closely followed Russia’s Luna-25 mission, which had the same lunar region as its target but sadly veered into an uncontrolled orbit and crashed. Luna-25 had aspired to become Russia’s first successful lunar landing in 47 years.
Roscosmos, Russia’s state-controlled space corporation, attributed the mission’s failure to a lack of expertise, resulting from the prolonged hiatus in lunar research following the last Soviet mission to the moon in 1976.
India’s space journey has been active since the 1960s, encompassing satellite launches for both domestic and international purposes. Notably, in 2014, India successfully placed a satellite in orbit around Mars, a significant accomplishment that drew global attention. As part of its future plans, India is gearing up for its maiden mission to the International Space Station in collaboration with the United States, demonstrating its continued commitment to pushing the boundaries of space exploration.