India made historyas the first country to land near the south pole of the moon with its Chandrayaan-3 lander on Aug. 23, 2023. This also makes it the first country to land on the moon since China in 2020.
India is one of several countries — including the U.S. with itsArtemis program— endeavoring to land on the moon. The south pole of the moon is of particular interest, as its surface, marked by craters, trenches and pockets of ancient ice, hasn’t been visited until now.
The Conversation U.S. askedinternational affairs expertMariel Borowitz about this moon landing’s implications for both science and the global community.
Related: Watch Chandrayaan-3’s Pragyan rover take its ‘1st steps’ on the moon (video)
Why are countries like India looking to go to the moon?
Countries are interested ingoing to the moonbecause it can inspire people, test the limits of human technical capabilities and allow us to discover more about our solar system.
The moon has ahistorical and cultural significancethat really seems to resonate with people – anyone in the world can look up at the night sky, see the moon and understand how amazing it is that a spacecraft built by humans is roaming around the surface.
The moon also presents a unique opportunity to engage in bothinternational cooperation and competitionin a peaceful, but highly visible, way.
The fact thatso many nations– the United States, Russia, China, India, Israel – andeven commercial entitiesare interested in landing on the moon means that there are many opportunities to forge new partnerships.
These partnerships can allow nations to do more in space by pooling resources, and they encourage more peaceful cooperation here on Earth by connecting individual researchers and organizations.
There are some people who also believe that exploration of the moon can provide economic benefits. In the near term, this might include the emergence of startup companies working on space technology and contributing to these missions. India has seen a surge in space startups recently.
Are we seeing new global interest in space?
Over the last few decades, weve seen a significant increase in the number of nations involved in space activity. This is very apparent when it comes to satellites that collect imagery or data about the Earth, for example.More than 60 nationshave been involved in these types of satellite missions. Now were seeing this trend expand to space exploration, and particularly the moon.
In some ways, the interest in the moon is driven by similar goals as in the first space race in the 1960s – demonstrating technological capabilities and inspiring young people and the general public. However, this time it’s not just two superpowers competing in a race. Now we have many participants, and while there isstill a competitive elementthere is also an opportunity for cooperation and forging new international partnerships to explore space.
Also, with all these new actors and the technical advances of the last 60 years, there is the potential to engage in more sustainable exploration. This could include building moon bases, developing ways to use lunar resources and eventually engaging in economic activities on the moon based on natural resources or tourism.
How does India’s mission compare with moon missions in other countries?
Indias accomplishment is the first of its kind and very exciting, but its worth noting that its one of sevenmissions currently operatingon and around the moon.
In addition to Indias Chandrayaan-3 rover near the south pole, there is also South Korea’s Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, which is studying the moons surface to identify future landing sites; the NASA-funded CAPSTONE spacecraft, which was developed by aspace startup company; and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. The CAPSTONE craft is studying the stability of a unique orbit around the moon, and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is collecting data about the moon and mapping sites for future missions.
Also, while India Chandrayaan-2 rover crashed, the accompanying orbiter is still operational. China Chang’e-4 and Chang’e-5 landers are still operating on the moon as well.
Other nations and commercial entities are working to join in. Russia Luna-25 missioncrashed into the moonthree days before the Chandrayaan-3 landed, but the fact that Russia developed the rover and got so close is still a significant achievement.
The same could be said for the lunar lander built by the private Japanese space companyispace. The lander crashed into the moon in April 2023.
Why choose to explore the south pole of the moon?
The south pole of the moon is the area where nations are focused for future exploration. All of NASA13 candidate landing locationsfor the Artemis program are located near the south pole.
This area offers the greatest potential to find water ice, which could be used to support astronauts and to make rocket fuel. It also has peaks that are in constant or near-constant sunlight, which creates excellent opportunities for generating power to support lunar activities.