In September 2023, India became the fourth country ever to land on the moon and the first to explore its Southern Pole. In a historic moment, India successfully landed on the previously unexplored south pole of the moon with its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft, helping the nation cement its claim as a national superpower in space exploration. The landing came after recent discoveries of water ice in this southern region.
The landing has been highly celebrated and praised by notable figures globally. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that “this success belongs to all of humanity”, while also acknowledging his great pride in the nation’s space program, the ISRO, which uses fewer financial resources compared to its global counterparts. Professor Wendy Whitman Cobb from the U.S. Air Force School of Advanced Air and Space Studies has highlighted the significance of the Southern Pole as a “scientific and geologic area that a lot of countries are trying to get at that can serve as a base for future exploration” with the discovery of traces of water ice serving as a potential source for spacecraft and rocket fuel. While this accomplishment serves as a success for all of humanity, the New York Times reports that India’s government has made it clear that it should take the leadership role in space exploration, asserting Indian national interest on the world stage.
Historically, space exploration and technological advancements have been a source of competition and tension between global superpowers. The significance of this landing is reminiscent of the Space Race era and the intense competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. Echoing Prime Minister Modi’s statement, viewing this landing as a success for all of humanity will open up opportunities for collaboration, rather than replicating the hostilities that took place during the Cold War. While India should be seen as a valuable player in space exploration and celebrated for their achievement, the eager desire to become an indispensable global superpower could cross a fine line into the territory of competition and tension, leading to hostilities rather than collaboration. The United States and India have already taken a promising step to prevent this: In June, Prime Minister Modi visited the U.S. to sign an agreement alongside President Biden to join the Artmeris Accord, solidifying further collaboration between the two nations’ space programs, NASA and ISRO.
The previously unexplored lunar South Pole has been an area of great interest in space exploration, drawing significant global resources. Russia had attempted to land a spacecraft in the region days before the Chandrayaan-3 landing. Unfortunately, the spacecraft spun out of control and smashed into the surface of the moon, resulting in an unsuccessful mission. If the spacecraft, the Luna-25, had been successful, it would have been the nation’s first spacecraft on the moon in almost 50 years, following the Luna-24 landing in 1976. Luckily, the success of the Chandrayaan-3 landing can be shared globally. The spacecraft is on a two-week timed scientific mission, collecting data at a time when the sun is shining on the region’s surface, providing energy for the solar-powered lander and rover, which will collect thermal, seismic, and mineralogical measurements to analyze the mineral composition of the moon’s surface. To reach the moon, the spacecraft took a slow and fuel-conscious route. India’s initiative to promote eco-friendly alternatives to traditional space travel should be celebrated just as much as the achievement itself; as technological advancements continue to develop, environmental threats need to be addressed urgently.
With the whole world watching and applauding India’s remarkable achievement, it is essential to recognize and harness the shared success of this scientific advancement as a benefit for all. As the spacecraft completes its mission, we must reflect on how we can use scientific progress to contribute to a better world. If nations and governments can collaborate, rather than compete in the realm of scientific exploration, a sense of optimism for our world’s future can be instilled, prevailing over all of the chaos and negativity that often dominates our headlines today.
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