India becomes the first country to land spacecraft on moon’s south pole

Updated Aug 23, 2023, 8:36am EDT
A view of the moon as viewed by the Chandrayaan-3 lander during Lunar Orbit Insertion on August 5, 2023 in this screengrab from a video released August 6, 2023. ISRO/Handout via REUTERS
ISRO/Handout via REUTERS
Jenna Moon/

India has become the first country to land a spacecraft on the moon’s south pole. It launched Chandrayaan-3 in mid-July, with the spacecraft entering the moon’s orbit on Aug. 5. Earlier this week, Russia crashed its Luna-25 rocket in the same lunar region.

It's notoriously difficult to land a rover on the moon. Russia's Luna-25 crashed while making an attempt just this week, while Japanese company ispace failed to land an unmanned lander in April.1 Since the moon has no atmosphere, landers can't just softly touch down on the lunar surface. And, without GPS capabilities, scientists rely on the lander's computers to accurately identify where the spacecraft will touch down.2

India is only the fourth country to pull off a moon landing, behind the U.S., China, and Russia. The nation's lunar aspirations are part of a push by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to garner investments for private space exploration and satellite launches.3 Speaking at the rocket's launch in July, Modi heralded a "new chapter" in India's space program.4

India's last lunar trip ended in a crash. Chandrayaan-2 crashed into the moon's surface in 2019, due to an issue with its braking system.5 The spacecraft orbited the moon, and was responsible for the discovery of frozen water on the lunar surface. That finding launched the current race back to the moon.6