Author: Adam Rittenberg
India’s historic attempt to soft land a rover on the moon may have ended in failure moments before landing and scientists scrambled to analyze the final communication from Chandrayaan-2.
“Vikram lander descent was as planned and normal performance was observed till the altitude of 2.1 km. Subsequently the communication from the lander to ground station was lost. The data is being analyzed,” said K. Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, the country’s equivalent of NASA.
The control room in the city of Bengaluru filled with scientists underwent a visible change as updates from the lander faded. The crowd had celebrated every small step during the controlled descent and at 1:55 a.m. local time on Saturday (4:25 p.m. ET Friday), the moment the landing was expected to take place, silence descended.
“In life, there are ups and downs. The country is proud of you. And all your hard work has taught us something … Hope for the best … You have served the country well and served science and humanity well,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the announcement.
Later, Modi tweeted: “We remain hopeful and will continue working hard on our space programme.” He was scheduled to address the nation later Saturday.
“As important as the final result is … I can proudly say that the effort was worth it and so was the journey. Our team worked hard, traveled far and those teachings will always remain with us,” Modi said in a speech posted on Twitter hours later.
Modi was in the mission control room when the lander was supposed to touch down.
Images of the controlled descent in the control room showed an abrupt break in the otherwise controlled normal descent.
The next phase would have been a rover traveling on the lunar surface and collecting mineral and chemical samples for remote scientific analysis. The automated rover is named Pragyan (meaning “wisdom”).
This latest venture would have brought India into the elite group of nations who have successfully accomplished a soft landing on the moon. The United States, China and the former Soviet Union have made soft landings.
Unlike previous attempts by other countries, India was attempting to land its rover on the far side of the moon, an area that has been left largely unexplored during other missions.
The Chandrayaan-2, which means “moon vehicle” in Sanskrit, took off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota in southern Andhra Pradesh on July 22. Weighing 3.8 tons and carrying 13 payloads, it had three elements: lunar orbiter, lander and rover.
Before communication was lost, the lander was attempting to touch down in the high latitude areas near the south pole between two craters.
“This particular south pole is in a shadow region. Because of these special characteristics, it is believed that new sides will be hidden. It is a place that nobody has explored,” said K. Sivan, chairman of ISRO in an interview last week.