India Races to the Moon

Aryan Girish – Year 10 Student

Russia……America…….China: these nations all go by the name of space superpowers, and all have achieved the gargantuan achievement of sending a satellite to the Moon. The year is 1969 and the US and the erstwhile USSR are both heavily involved in the space race over who can get man to the Moon first. Back then, as now, humans are attracted to the Moon and are keen to exploit it. In the 21st century it is both big governments and now private multi-billionaires such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos who are driving the latest space race. There are major economic, technological and geopolitical reasons for this. 

According to Morgan Stanley, space-based businesses are contributing $350 billion to national GDPs. There is also speculation that the rare elements found on the surface of the Moon can be used to make electronic devices. Currently, the price of transporting these elements to Earth is exorbitant, but technology is evolving rapidly and so there is every reason to believe that the cost of this process will drop significantly. 

In addition to this, there are technological and scientific reasons to go to the Moon. Telescopes placed on the surface of the Moon are more effective and powerful. This is a big achievement for mankind as we now have a chance to explore space further and push more ambitious limits. Applications initially used for space exploration can later be useful to humans on Earth; a key example is GPS (Global Positioning System).

On the south pole of the Moon there are believed to be craters that have high amounts of water and ice inside them. This could be used for agriculture and to help sustain human life. In addition to this, once you break down water, oxygen is produced. But why is oxygen so important? A plentiful supply of oxygen recombined with hydrogen can create powerful and clean rocket fuel. Rocket fuel can be used in deep-space missions. Clean rocket fuel is very hard to obtain on Earth due to the difficult and prolonged manufacturing process that it requires. Finally, the Moon will be an ideal landing station on the way to explore Mars; for example, spacecraft may be refuelled on the Moon.

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Chandrayaan-2 atop GSLV MK III rocket, ISRO. (Wikipedia Commons – labelled for reuse)

India, an emerging superpower, is also keen to make its mark on this space race. India’s majestic satellite is named Chandrayaan-2 and was launched on the 22nd July 2019 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre to investigate and land on the lunar south pole. India were also instrumental in sending Chandrayaan-1, their first deep-space mission, to the Moon on 22nd October 2008. However, this satellite wasn’t sent to land on the Moon, but merely to search for water on the Moon’s surface and to dispatch an impactor to the surface. It is still in the Moon’s orbit to this day; however, only recently ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organisation, lost contact with it. 

Weighing 2,379 kg, the satellite itself – Chandrayaan-2 – was taken up to the Moon with a lander and a rover by a GSLV Mark III rocket (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark-III). India set themselves the daring target of deploying a lander and a rover on the south pole of the Moon. No other nation has ever achieved this. Performing this requires a huge amount of precision and, if it goes wrong, severe consequences can arise – such as the lander and rover being destroyed. But, what even is a lander and a rover? A lander is built specifically to come down and rest on the surface of a planet or a moon. They also usually transport something to the surface. Alternatively, rovers are space exploration vehicles that are designed to explore objects and features on the surface of the respective planet or moon. India named their lander Vikram and their rover was named Pragyan.

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Lunar south pole, NASA. (Wikipedia Commons – labelled for reuse)

ISRO wanted to send Chandrayaan-2 to the Moon as it is the closest body in space where humans can document and attempt discovery. They also believed that Chandrayaan-2 would help foster a new age of discovery, increase their understanding of space and stimulate their advancement of technology. In addition to this, India wanted to explore the lunar south pole due to the plentiful supply of water it potentially offers to mankind, the fossil record that lies on the surface of the Moon and finally the future benefits it would provide being written into Indian history.

India was within inches of achieving their glory. Unfortunately, they lost connection with their satellite when the mission was 1.3 miles from touching down on the surface of the Moon. India’s lander, Vikram, was destroyed. Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, was still proud despite the Moon landing setback and consoled all of the scientists who were involved in the mission. He quoted after the incident that “the best is yet to come in our space programme.” 

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India’s mission to the Moon cost less than the production of Avengers: Endgame. (Flickr – labelled for reuse)

As stated earlier in this article, Russia, the US and China have all made it to the Moon and have all made a statement in their proud national history. However, what makes India’s mission to the Moon unique and inspiring, even though their mission wasn’t successful, was their cost-effectiveness for the mission. India’s budget was significantly less than the other successful nations. India had a budget of around US$140 million to spend on the mission, roughly a third of America’s budget when they sent their historic Apollo 11 to the Moon – and much less than the amount of money, US$356 million, that went into the production of Marvel movie Avengers: Endgame. India remains undeterred by this setback and is determined to land a man on the Moon by 2022. Watch this space.

Aryan Girish

References 

Time magazine. Jeffrey Kluger, 2019. Dueling Superpowers, Rival Billionaires. Inside the New Race to the Moon. Viewed 14/09/19. 

https://www.isro.gov.in/chandrayaan2-home-0. CHANDRAYAAN 2, Expanding the boundaries of human knowledge. ISRO. Viewed 14/09/19. 

http://www.planetary.org/explore/space-topics/space-missions/chandrayaan-2.html. The Planetary Society. Chandrayaan 2, India’s fist Lunar Landing. Viewed 14/09/19.

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