This month commemorates the 54th anniversary of the first manned landing on the Moon, where Neil Armstrong uttered those immortal words: “This is a small step for a man, but a giant leap for mankind. While no man has landed on the Moon since 1972, when the US Apollo missions concluded, the US, Russia, and China have dispatched numerous unmanned probes to lunar orbit and the Moon itself in the intervening five decades.
With the successful landing of the Chandrayaan-3 (literally lunar spacecraft) probe, India has become only the fourth country to send a robotic probe to the Moon. Significantly, it landed on the moon’s largely unexplored South Pole, a first by any country. The successful landing was significant from another perspective: a prior attempt by India’s Chandrayaan-2 ended in a crash landing in 2019. This space probe’s landing is timely since recent research suggests that the lunar poles might harbour trace amounts of water, which will be essential for potential human settlements on the oon. The US indeed plans to realise this vision in the next decade through its manned spaceflight programme, Artemis. Several private US companies are also planning cargo missions to the Moon.
With the success of Chandrayaan-3, India has overshadowed both the US and Russia, whose own Luna-25 craft crash-landed on the Moon just a couple of days earlier, significantly embarrassing the Russian space agency Roscosmos. Japan also experienced a similar failure when a probe sent by the private company ISpace crash-landed on the moon a few months ago.
While some question the value of space exploration amidst Earth’s myriad problems, gaining insights into other worlds provides insights into our own. Moreover, humanity’s inherent drive to explore has led to progress—had early humans not ventured beyond Africa in search of the Great Unknown, we would remain confined to that continent. Now, we are venturing forth in search of other worlds. Given the havoc that climate change is wreaking on Earth, researching other universes may offer insights into saving our own.
W. JERRY DANIEL,