Watch Chandrayaan-3's Pragyan rover take its '1st steps' on the moon (video)

The Indian Space Research Organization just shared a video capturing the moment when Chandrayaan-3's Pragyan rover "stepped onto" the moon's surface for the first time — as well as the first image of the rover and the mission's lander taken from orbit. 

Although the Pragyan rover disembarked from the landing platform on Wednesday (Aug. 23), at about 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT on Thursday, Aug. 24), the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) only released the footage capturing the historic moment about a day later. 

The footage, taken by a camera on Chandrayaan-3's Vikram (Sanskrit for "valor") lander, shows Pragyan ("wisdom") with its vertical solar panel deployed like a sail rolling down the ramp and leaving tracks in the soft lunar dust as its wheels touch it for the first time. 

A separate clip shows the preceding sequence of events with the lander's ramp door opening, revealing the rover stowed inside and the subsequent deployment of the solar panel. 

Related: Why Chandrayaan-3 landed near the moon's south pole

India's Pragyan rover has left tracks in the lunar soil. (Image credit: ISRO)

"A two-segment ramp facilitated the roll-down of the rover," ISRO said in a post on X, previously known as Twitter, sharing the clips. "A solar panel enabled the rover to generate power."

ISRO added that 26 mechanical segments — all developed at the Rao Satellite Centre in Bangalore, India's tech center and capital of the southern state of Karnataka — were needed to facilitate the smooth release of the rover from the lander. 

Later in the day, ISRO announced that Pragyan has already traversed a distance of about 26 feet (8 meters) and that all systems on both, the lander and the rover are fit and well.

ISRO also shared a photo of Pragyan and its mothership sitting next to each other on the lunar surface, which was taken from the moon's orbit by another Indian mission, the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter.

"Chandrayaan-2's Orbiter High-Resolution Camera (OHRC), the camera with the best resolution anyone currently has around the moon, spots Chandrayaan-3 Lander after the landing on 23/2³/23," ISRO said in a post on X, referring to the day (August 23), year (2023) and time (nearly 11 pm, or 2300) when the image was taken.

India's Chandrayaan 3 lander spotted on the surface of the moon by India's earlier moon mission, Chandrayaan 2, from the moon's orbit. (Image credit: ISRO)

The Chandrayaan-2 mission was Chandrayaan-3's predecessor and India's first attempt to land on the moon. That attempt, however, failed in September 2019 due to a software glitch. 

Landing on the moon is notoriously difficult. With the successful touchdown of Chandrayaan-3, India has joined a handful of countries that have accomplished that feat — the United States, Russia and China. 

Earlier this year, an attempt by the Japan-based company ispace failed when its Hakuto-R lander hit a crater rim during descent. Just three days before India's triumph, Russia's Luna-25 mission, which, like Chandrayaan-3, aimed for the southern polar region, crashed after a botched orbital maneuver. Luna-25 was Russia's first moon-bound mission in nearly 50 years and an attempt by the former space superpower to restore its fading reputation.

Chandrayaan-3 touched down on the lunar surface on Wednesday at 8:33 a.m. EDT (1233 GMT or 6:03 p.m. India Standard Time). Since then, ISRO has released several sets of images, including four captured during descent, as well as the lander's first up-close glimpse at the pockmarked lunar surface upon landing. On Thursday (Aug. 24), the agency shared a new video sequence showing the view of the moon's surface through the eyes of the Lander Imager Camera taken only a few moments before touchdown. 

Pragyan and Vikram will spend two weeks studying the region around the mission's landing site, an area of great scientific interest near the lunar south pole. In addition to being India's first successful lunar landing mission, Chandrayaan-3 is also the world's first mission to explore the moon's southern polar region from the surface rather than from orbit. 

Scientists think that the permanently shadowed craters around the moon's poles hide deposits of frozen water that could be extracted and used by future human crews. That would help reduce the cost of human exploration, as astronauts wouldn't need to bring water with them. They could also use this water to make oxygen, another life-critical consumable. In the future, hydrogen and oxygen made from splitting lunar water could be used as fuel for rockets heading to Mars and beyond.

NASA's Artemis 3 mission is scheduled to touch down in the southern polar region in late 2025 or 2026 with the first humans since the last Apollo-era mission of the early 1970s aboard. Astronomers are also eying the shaded polar craters, as these geological formations created by past asteroid impacts provide a thermally stable environment where next-generation space telescopes could be placed to allow scientists to peer deeper into the universe than is currently possible. (Unlike Earth, the moon doesn't have a thick, image-blurring atmosphere.)

India's Chandrayaan-3 is paving the way for these grander endeavors. The mission's rover and lander, however, are not expected to survive the next lunar night; both of the vehicles' batteries will likely get depleted shortly after sunset, not providing enough energy to carry the systems through the two weeks of bitter cold and complete darkness. (The lunar day-night cycle lasts about 28 Earth days.)

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Tereza Pultarova
Senior Writer

Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University. She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science,, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.

  • billslugg
    I wonder why it won't just "wake up" when the sunshine comes back. Extreme cold damages the electronics? Thermal stresses?
  • 24launch
    billslugg said:
    I wonder why it won't just "wake up" when the sunshine comes back. Extreme cold damages the electronics? Thermal stresses?
    Most likely the cold, and yes, potentially just the extremes. A potentially 500F difference between lunar day and lunar night is really difficult challenge for engineering.

    And -250F for 2 weeks straight really is a killer. China's rover and lander on the far side basically hibernate and use battery power to warm the critical components during that period. The rover also folds up to help keep the heat inside and better distributed to the critical components. They did some wonderous engineering that has kept the rover and lander operating for as long as they have. Just like our brilliant engineers at JPL and our long-lived orbiters and rovers!

    Not that India couldn't have achieved that either, but there were undoubtedly budgetary constraints and 2 weeks is a good technology demonstration. Why spend a fortune on a lander and rover designed to last a year or more on a demonstration mission before you find out what you're weakest links technology-wise are in that crazy harsh environment.
  • billslugg
    I suspect the extreme cold simply fractures the metal interconnects as they are bonded to a resin board which has a much different coefficient of expansion than metals..