India’s moon rover has snapped the first photo of its mothership on the lunar surface — a week after the nation made history with its Chandrayaan-3 mission.
The country beat the likes of Russia, China and the US to become the first state to land a spacecraft on the lunar south pole on August 23.
Not only that, but it did so with a modest budget of $73 million (£57 million), which is less money than it cost to make the Hollywood space movies Interstellar and Gravity.
The two-week mission has now reached its halfway mark, with the Pragyan moon rover and Vikram lander racing to finish their ground-breaking exploration before the solar-powered batteries on both vehicles run dry.
Neither craft is expected to survive the upcoming two-week lunar night.
Sitting pretty: India’s moon rover has snapped the first photo of its mothership on the lunar surface — a week after the nation made history with its Chandrayaan-3 mission
‘Smile, please! Pragyan Rover clicked an image of Vikram Lander this morning,’ ISRO said in a post sharing two images on X (formerly Twitter)
Before this happens, however, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) made sure to capture what its Vikram lander looks like through the eyes of Pragyan.
Officials from the ISRO released two black and white images which show the lander sitting proudly on the dust-covered lunar surface.
‘Smile, please! Pragyan Rover clicked an image of Vikram Lander this morning,’ ISRO said in a post sharing the images on X (formerly Twitter).
‘The “image of the mission” was taken by the Navigation Camera onboard the Rover (NavCam).’
One of the images shows two of Vikram’s science sensors deployed on the lunar surface — the Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment (ChaSTE) and the Instrument for Lunar Seismic Activity (ILSA).
The Chandrayaan-3 mission landed on the moon on August 23. A day later Pragyan descended from Vikram and has been roaming around ever since.
Among its scientific work so far is the distinction of being the first machine to find chemical elements on the moon’s south pole ‘in situ’ – so in the place it exists, rather than detected from a distance by an orbiter.
It has recorded evidence of sulphur, aluminium, calcium, iron, chromium, titanium, manganese, silicon, and oxygen, while the search for hydrogen is now under way.
Sara Russell, a professor of planetary sciences at the Natural History Museum in London, said the rover’s discovery has ‘really important implications’ for both researchers and astronauts.
Officials from the ISRO released two black and white images which show the lander sitting proudly on the dust-covered lunar surface. One of the images shows two of Vikram’s science sensors deployed on the lunar surface (right)
Chandrayaan-3’s rover (nicknamed ‘Pragyan’) was carried to the moon aboard the larger lander (‘Vikram’). Just a day after touchdown the rover rolled out of its parent craft and started to explore (pictured)
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) posted this graph to X showing the chemical elements detected by Chandrayaan-3, including sulphur (S)
‘Sulphur is usually bonded to important metals like iron and nickel, and these may be important ores that could be used by future astronauts to enable them to live and work on the moon,’ she told MailOnline.
‘We already know that the moon contains sulphur, from our analyses of rocks returned from the moon by space missions, and from lunar meteorites.
‘What we don’t really know is the distribution and abundance of sulphur on the moon.
‘This has really important implications for understanding the way the moon evolved.
‘For example how much sulphur was lost when the moon first formed in a giant impact, and today how do the different rock layers of the moon differ in composition?’
ISRO has been regularly tweeting updates about the progress of its Chandrayaan-3 mission over the past week, including sharing amazing photos of the lunar south region.
Science instruments on both the lander and rover will be active for a total of just one lunar day (14 Earth days) before losing power — a relatively short mission.
Once the time period is up, the rover and lander will become inactive on the moon and bring the mission to the end.
Chandrayaan-3’s instruments will end their days covered in lunar dust, although it is not impossible that manned missions to our natural satellite could recover their parts for reuse.
Although India is the fourth country after the US, Russia and China to safely land a craft on the moon, it made history as the first to do so on the moon’s south pole.
Russia tried to land a spacecraft on the lunar south on August 19 but spectacularly failed when it spun out of control and smashed — leaving the path free for India to seal the achievement instead.
Chandrayaan-3 actually left Earth more than a month ago, aboard a rocket from Satish Dhawan Space Centre north of Chennai on July 14.
India’s spacecraft has taken much longer to reach the moon than NASA’s Apollo missions, which arrived in a matter of days, because the Asian nation is using much less powerful rockets.
China and US will follow India’s success with their own attempts to land at the moon’s south pole
Along with India and Russia, China and the US are also part of the race to put spacecraft on the moon’s south pole.
Although India has won the race to be the first, the other three nations are expected to become the second to do it later this decade
China’s Chang’e 7 robotic exploration mission, scheduled for 2026, has the lunar south pole as its destination.
Meanwhile, the US’s Artemis programme run by NASA, not content just with landing an uncrewed robotic gadget at the lunar south, wants to send humans instead.
The Artemis III mission, which will land the first woman and the first person of colour on the moon, is planned for 2025, but NASA recently admitted this could be pushed back.
Russia’s attempt to be the first to land at the south pole – Luna 25 – failed just days before India took the record.
Russia’s mission – a follow-up to Luna 24 back in 1976 – failed when it spun out of control and smashed.
Valery Yegorov, a former researcher with Russia’s space programme who now lives in exile, said the crash would severely affect Roscosmos’s future missions, with the next one not planned until 2028 or ‘even later’.
India has a comparatively low-budget aerospace programme, but one that has grown considerably in size and momentum since it first sent a probe to orbit the moon in 2008 (Chandrayaan-1).
Its Chandrayaan-3 mission has a price tag of $74.6million – far lower than those of other countries, and a testament to India’s frugal space engineering.
Experts say India can keep costs low by copying and adapting existing space technology, and thanks to an abundance of highly skilled engineers who earn a fraction of their foreign counterparts’ wages.
In 2014, India became the first Asian nation to put a satellite into orbit around Mars and is slated to launch a three-day manned mission into Earth’s orbit by next year.
India is also working with the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) on Chandrayaan-4, which would also land at the moon’s south but have a much longer lifespan.
Launch of Chandrayaan-4 is tentatively scheduled for 2025 or 2026.