The LVM-3 rocket carrying the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft lifts off from India's Satish Dhawan Space Centre on July 14, 2023. (Credit: ISRO/YouTube)

In a remarkable feat, India successfully landed its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft on the Moon's surface on August 23, 2023. It is only the fourth nation in the world — after the former Soviet Union, the US, and China — to accomplish this achievement. Even more impressive, India is the only country to land a spacecraft on the southern lunar pole.

Shortly after the historic touchdown, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) rolled out the Pragyan rover onto the lunar surface. The compact rover's six wheels are etched with ISRO's logo and the Ashoka Chakra, a wheel symbol depicted on the Indian flag. The images will be imprinted onto the lunar surface as Pragyan explores the area. Its primary goal is to analyze the chemical composition of the Moon's dust and gravel.

The mission is expected to last about 14 Earth days — the length of one lunar day. The solar-powered Pragyan will most likely become inactive once the frigid two-week-long lunar night begins. ISRO scientists will try to awaken the rover after its two-week slumber. But, the extreme cold could cause its scientific instruments to freeze and stop working.

The Chandrayaan missions

The Chandrayaan-3 mission, which cost a modest 600 crore rupees (about $73 million), is India's third lunar mission. The Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft circled the Moon for 312 days in 2008. It made some important discoveries, including finding water molecules on the arid lunar surface.

The Pragyan rover successfully landed on the Moon on August 23, 2023 (Credit: ISRO)

Chandrayaan-2, launched in 2019, marked the country's first attempt to land on the Moon. Unfortunately, the lander, with the rover inside, crashed on the Moon's surface. However, the mission was not a complete failure. The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter continues to circle and collect data on the Moon to this day. It even helped Indian scientists identify a safe landing spot for Chandrayaan-3.

The Moon's south pole

The lunar south pole has recently been of particular interest to scientists. That's because the area is believed to contain a significant amount of frozen water. If true, it could substantially lower the cost of future moon missions since water would not have to be brought from Earth. The water could also be split into hydrogen and oxygen to make rocket fuel. That would make it possible to use the Moon to launch human missions to Mars and beyond.