In a historic achievement for India, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully landed its first probe on the Moon as part of the Chandrayaan-3 mission on August 23. At the heart of this triumph was Kalpana Kalahasti, the associate project director of Chandrayaan-3, who played a pivotal role in ensuring the mission’s flawless execution.
Chandrayaan-3 carried the hopes and aspirations of a nation still reeling from the setback of Chandrayaan-2 in 2019, where the lander failed to reach the lunar surface. Undeterred by the previous challenges, Kalahasti and her team were determined to bounce back. Reflecting on the journey, she expressed, “From the day we started rebuilding our spacecraft after the Chandrayaan-2 experience, it has been breathe in, breathe out Chandrayaan-3 for the team.”
One of the significant challenges faced by the team was the constraint to maintain the spacecraft’s total mass and budget from the Chandrayaan-2 mission. Kalahasti collaborated with project director Palanivel Veeramuthuvel to reconfigure the orbiter and lander, focusing on optimizing the Chandrayaan-3 configuration. They successfully reduced the orbiter’s mass to allocate extra fuel to the lander, reinforcing its legs, and implementing other improvements.
Comprehensive tests and simulations were integral to Chandrayaan-3’s development, with a particular emphasis on the navigation system’s ability to navigate Moon-like terrain. Kalahasti highlighted the meticulous approach: “The goal was to have a well-documented, well-understood system. There was no compromise in demonstrating the system’s performance.”
The successful mission not only placed India among a select group of countries that have achieved lunar landings but also inspired confidence globally. Jessy Kate Schingler, a space-policy researcher, and senior adviser at the Open Lunar Foundation in California commended India’s commitment, stating, “Chandrayaan-3, I think, is an appreciated investment the whole world will benefit from.”
Kalahasti, who joined ISRO in 2000 as a radar engineer, expressed her joy that the Chandrayaan-3 mission has ignited enthusiasm among the youth in India. Beyond the technical accomplishments, she hopes the meticulous recovery from failure serves as inspiration for young professionals worldwide.
Looking ahead, Kalahasti is excited about ISRO’s future endeavors, including a mission to retrieve lunar samples. With the critical aspect of demonstrating a Moon landing accomplished, she envisions the agency moving towards more ambitious lunar exploration goals, paving the way for India’s space exploration milestones in the years to come.