The launch of the Chandrayaan-2 has been set for April by the Indian Space Research Organization. The mission to the moon will consist of an orbiter, a lander, and a rover and is aimed toward the Lunar South Pole. If weather or some other reason delays the launch, the next available window will be in October.

Chandrayaan-2 to be India’s Apollo moon shot

Various Indian media outlets are comparing the flight of the Chandrayaan-2 to the Apollo moon landings that was undertaken almost 50 years ago by the United States. To be sure, India is not sending people to the lunar surface.

However, the triple part space probe will contain 13 scientific instruments and will land in an area hitherto unexplored from the ground by astronaut or robot. The lunar South Pole is thought to include a large bounty of ice in permanently shadowed craters, something that was picked up by the Chandrayaan-1 orbiter several years ago. The ice can be extracted and melted into water for future lunar settlers. It can also be refined into rocket fuel, making the moon a giant gas station for vehicles headed to destinations in deep space.

Landing in an airless world can be tricky. Accomplishing the feat so far from the lunar equator will be doubly so. India has invested a considerable amount of pride in the Chandrayaan-2.

If the mission is successful, it will launch India to the forefront of space technology.

Implications for an international return to the moon

No organization outside of India will follow the lunar mission with keener interest than NASA. Thanks to a directive from President Donald Trump, the American space agency is gearing up for its own return to the moon program.

For the effort to succeed, NASA will need international partners. A successful mission to the lunar South Pole will place India neatly is the front-running for a partnership with NASA in a decade-long effort that will put astronauts boots on the lunar ground sometime in the 2020s.

The data that could be gained by the Chandrayaan-2 will also be beneficial for the return to the moon effort.

The chances are that the first lunar base will be located near the moon’s South Pole, close to the ice deposits. Future astronauts will be obliged to live off the land as much as possible, to avoid shipping materials from Earth. A careful study of what resources besides ice are available at the South Pole of the moon will be crucial for making that approach happen when astronauts do return to the lunar surface.