May 24, 2024

India is on the brink of a historic attempt to land its Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft on the moon that could make it only the fourth nation ever to accomplish such a feat.

The Indian Space Research Organization confirmed on Tuesday that Chandrayaan-3, which is Sanskrit for “moon vehicle,” is on track and “smooth sailing is continuing.” The spacecraft is set to begin its final descent to the moon’s surface on Wednesday at 5:45 p.m. IST (8:15 a.m. ET).

India’s space agency will livestream the landing attempt starting at 5:20 p.m. IST (7:50 a.m. ET) on Wednesday.

If successful, the mission could cement India’s status as a global superpower in space. Previously, only the United States, China and the former Soviet Union have completed soft landings on the lunar surface.

Chandrayaan-3’s projected landing site is also closer to the moon’s south pole than any other spacecraft in history has ventured. The south pole region is considered an area of key scientific and strategic interest for spacefaring nations, as scientists believe the region to be home to water ice deposits.

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The water, frozen in shadowy craters, could be converted into rocket fuel or even drinking water for future crewed missions.

India’s attempt to land its spacecraft near the lunar south pole comes just days after another nation’s failed attempt to do the same. Russia’s Luna 25 spacecraft crashed into the moon on August 19 after its engines misfired, ending the country’s first lunar landing attempt in 47 years.

India’s mission has taken on even greater significance since Russia’s failed Luna 25 landing attempt.

If Chandrayaan-3 is successful, India would also become the second country to land a spacecraft on the moon in the 21st century after China, which has put three landers on the lunar surface since 2013 — including the first to touch down on the moon’s far side. (The last US lunar lander, the crewed Apollo 17 mission, touched down in 1972.)

More than a dozen countries have plans for missions to the moon in the coming years, including a mission launched by Japan’s space agency — the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency — that is expected to lift off later this month.

The United States also has plans to send three commercial lunar landers to the moon starting as early as this year, while NASA continues to work toward its Artemis III mission, which could put astronauts back on the moon as soon as 2025.

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