Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has recently achieved a historical milestone when its third moon mission, Chandrayaan-3, landed near the lunar South Pole. The Chandrayaan-3 has marked a significant achievement in Indian space exploration history parallel to increasing the standing of India in the international space race. This successful space mission of ISRO has made India the fourth nation to land on the moon after the former Soviet Union, the United States, and China.
The success of the space mission started a countrywide jubilation in India, which was formally endorsed and expressed by several government authorities and political leaders in their statements. The message of the ISRO’s chief, ‘India is on the moon,’ initially confirmed the accomplishment of a planned space mission in which the Indian space agency touched the area of the moon containing significant potential for scientific exploration. The objective of marking high achievements in lunar explorations communicated to the whole world India’s rising stature in the field of space technology.
It is widely believed that the Indian government is allocating high budgets to the ISRO intending to secure a prominent position in the international race of space explorations.
The leading state authorities under Modi’s government are strong-minded in making India a rising power capable of altering the conventional patterns of international power politics. New Delhi’s quest for becoming an influential player in the ongoing great power politics is the fundamental reason compelling Indian leaders to explore new avenues in the space domain with the belief that the high levels of space exploration will let the Indian government empower its position in regional and international politics.
Apart from considering the success of ISRO’s Chandrayaan-3 as an important factor serving Indian national interests, the critical position of the international community on New Delhi’s landing on the moon cannot be ignored. The initial reaction of the international community to the Chandrayaan-3’s landing was aligned with the Indian government because the leaders of different states expressed their appreciation to the Indian government for its landmark achievement in the space domain. The subsequent developments started raising specific doubts of states on ISRO’s proclaimed success. A recent statement by a Chinese lunar scientist challenged New Delhi’s claims of observing the landing of Chandrayaan-3 on the moon’s southern hemisphere.
The Chinese sources contradicted the statement of New Delhi on calling India the first country to land on the South Pole region of the moon.
Parallel to proving untrue the Indian claims of landing on a specific area of the moon, Chinese sources recalled the history of Beijing’s space efforts. The father of Beijing’s lunar exploration program, Ouyang Ziyuan, cleared in his recent media interview that the landing site of Chandrayaan-3 at 69 degrees South latitude actually let the ISRO proclaim the South Pole landing. The lunar scientist Ziyuan rationalized his argument with the support of certain calculated data consisting of some statistical details of the South Pole. According to Ouyang Ziyuan, the location of the South Pole is between 88.5 and 90 degrees, whereas the ISRO’s landing was 619 km (385 miles) distanced from the proclaimed area of the moon. Akin to the position of Ziyuan on the accomplished mission of Chandrayaan-3, several other Chinese experts believe that the accomplishments of Chinese lunar exploration are far more significant than New Delhi’s space efforts. China’s Chang’e 4 was the first landing on the far side of the moon, which internationally highlighted the advanced achievement of the Chinese space program.
Based on this scenario, the Chandrayaan-3’s proclaimed success has extended the New Delhi-Beijing competition into outer space, where China has a long history of high achievements. Based on a prominent history of landmark achievements of Beijing in the space domain, the Chinese lunar experts have clearly stated that the landing of ISRO’s space mission is not at the exact location of the South Pole, it cannot be considered even in the moon’s South Pole region. According to Chinese media sources, the announced landing of the Chandrayaan-3 is not even near the South Pole region. These observations of China must be supported due to China’s long history of space exploration and its quest to remain active in the international space race.
The Chinese reports for calling the Indian landing far from the ISRO’s pronounced area contain sufficient statistical pieces of evidence that could not be ignored in the absence of New Delhi’s counter-argument with various convincing facts.
Undoubtedly, New Delhi has developed various bilateral space collaborations with different states where the ongoing trends of India-US space cooperation play a significant role in empowering New Delhi’s space capabilities. However, the Chinese reports about Chandrayaan-3’s recent suspicious achievement contain substantial convincing potential, which is now seeking logical explanations of New Delhi. Therefore, the growing Chinese doubts about ISRO’s achievement in the form of Chandrayaan-3’s success highlighted the challenges and controversies that can arise in the realm of space exploration. The prevalence of contesting space claims now will intensify the ongoing strategic competition between states at the regional and international levels. The proclaimed success of ISRO confirmed internationally India as a rising space power with multileveled plans for space exploration. In this way, India has laid the foundation of space-centric competition between states in the broader Asian power politics generally and South Asian regional politics specifically.
The author is an Assistant Professor, at the Department of International Relations, National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Islamabad.