India is gearing up to land a probe on the Moon on Friday, which marks the first time the nation has ever attempted a lunar surface mission. Coverage of the descent will begin at 3:30pm ET, and touchdown is expected to be confirmed by 4:25pm. You can follow the landing at the livestream below.
If successful, the landing will make India the fourth country to achieve a soft-landing on the Moon, after the former Soviet Union, USA, and China. It will also be the first time any nation has landed an operational probe in the south polar region of the Moon.
“There is a huge symbolic value attached to this mission,” Pallava Bagla, an expert on India’s space program, told The New York Times. “This is all about national pride.”
In July, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the country’s federal space agency, launched the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft. It carried the lunar lander Vikram, named for Indian space pioneer Vikram Sarabhai, and the rover Pragyan, which means “wisdom” in Sanskrit, to lunar orbit.
On Monday, Vikram and Pragyan separated from the mothership, and executed a series of maneuvers to slow down and prepare for the touchdown. The descent sequence will last about 15 minutes and will ideally end with a gentle landing between two lunar craters called Manzinus C and Simpelius N.
The Moon’s south pole is dappled by shadowy deposits of water ice, which makes it a tantalizing unexplored destination. Important resources like water could help inform future Moon missions, especially human expeditions to the surface.
Vikram is equipped with several cameras and instruments, and will act as a communications relay once the six-wheeled rover is deployed to the surface. Pragyan, which is about the length of a skateboard deck, will aim to travel 500 meters across the terrain, taking pictures and measurements of its environment along the way.
Both robots will operate for 14 days, and will freeze to death when lunar night falls later in the month. The surface mission is only designed to last for two weeks.
Chandrayaan-2, meanwhile, will continue to orbit the Moon to observe its topography and mineral composition for the next year.
While this marks India’s first attempt at a soft-landing on the Moon, the nation is one of many countries that has crashed a probe on the lunar surface. These wrecks are almost all deliberate experiments, but sometimes a lander becomes an accidental impact probe. Just a few months ago, Israel’s first attempt at a lunar touchdown ended with a crash that may have spilled live tardigrades onto the lunar surface.
The ISRO team is no doubt hoping for a better outcome that will result in the nation’s latest major spaceflight milestone. But ISRO chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan still conceded he has some butterflies in his stomach.
“Landing is the terrifying moment,” said Sivan, according to National Geographic. “The powered descent....that is a first to us.”