India’s Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft has rolled its rover on to the moon’s surface after its successful landing at the lunar south pole.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced the rover had “ramped down from the lander and India took a walk on the moon”.
The chair of the ISRO, Sreedhara Panicker Somanath, told the NDTV news channel the lander and rover were functioning well and images of the rover exploring the moon’s surface could be released soon.
India made history on Wednesday by becoming the first country to land on the moon’s south pole when the mission’s lander managed a soft landing on the hitherto unexplored lunar region.
The rover, which is powered by solar panels, will spend two weeks roaming the rocks and boulders and will run a series of experiments to help scientists understand the geology of the moon, find out if there are traces of water, carry out chemical analysis and look for other potential discoveries.
Its main focus, though, will be to identify the composition of the lunar surface through X-ray spectrometry. The rover will send the data to the lander, which will send it to the ISRO command centre in Bengaluru for further study.
The images it sends back to Earth will be watched closely by Indians, who celebrated jubilantly once the spacecraft had landed after a nerve-racking descent. The landing was watched by millions of people across India, with almost seven million watching the YouTube live stream. The countdown in the last few minutes was the most fraught, with many Indians saying their hearts were racing.
The moment the lander touched down, it was time for frenzied celebrations. People jumped up, hugging, cheering and clapping. They beat drums. They burst fire crackers. They burst into song – patriotic numbers from Bollywood films were the favourites.
Schoolchildren obediently played to the script, telling reporters they wanted to become space scientists.
Social media was flooded with congratulatory messages bursting with national pride. From Bollywood stars to cricketers, everyone wanted to express their delight.
The story took up much of the newspapers’ front pages. “History, etched in space” and “India lights up the dark side of the moon” were two headlines.
Some stories pointed out the role Indian women have played in the country’s space programme. Approximately 54 female scientists and engineers have been involved in the Chandrayaan-3 mission. It is thought that between 20 and 25% of the ISRO’s 16,000 employees are women.
Ritu Karidhal Srivastava, for example, known as India’s “rocket woman”, has played a key role in developing India’s Mars orbiter mission, called Mangalyaan, as its deputy operations director. The mission made India the fourth country in the world to reach Mars in 2014.
For Somanath, the celebrations will not last long as he is already hoping to move on with other ISRO projects. Wednesday’s landing, he said, was just the start of the golden age of India’s space programme.
Coming up next is Aditya-L1, a mission to study the sun. Somanath said everything was in place for the mission to be launched next month.
Also soon to be launched is Gaganyaan, India’s project to send a crew of three astronauts into an orbit of 248 miles (400km) for a three-day mission and bring them safely back to Earth.
Somnath said if the mission succeeded it would lay the foundation for India’s human space exploration programme in the coming decades.