India’s attempts to successfully make a moon landing may have failed. The Vikram, a lunar lander containing a rover vehicle that would have carried out a series of experiments in the uncharted areas of the moon, appears to have had “a heavy landing.” This unfortunate result has caused scientists dismay as they have been unable to re-establish contact.
Only three other nations – the US, China, and the former Soviet Union – have ever successfully landed a spacecraft on the moon. Until Indian scientists can reconnect to the rover, the Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO) can not yet claim to be the fourth.
ISRO lost touch with the lander as it ended its descent, and although images show that it is has certainly reached the surface, it is not yet known whether this was a crash or a landing. At present, it seems as though the lander is resting on its side and is, therefore, incapable of being operated. The chairman of ISRO, K. Sivan, described the situation:
“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 analysed.”
From lift-off to landing, the project, known as Chandrayaan-2, lasted a total of 48 days. In the control center in the city of Bengaluru, scientists watched in silence as Vikram approached the moon’s surface. When they lost contact, emotions took over.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was present in the control room for this historic event, offered comfort to the anguished scientists. He offered words of encouragement and later released excerpts from a short speech, in which he said, “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.”
The lunar rover, a 27-kilo vehicle named Pragyan (translated from Sanskrit as “wisdom”), was devised to study moon craters that are permanently in shadow, and to test for water deposits. With scientists unable able to connect to the movable science lab, the project appears to be officially over.
The Chandrayaan-2 mission was so exciting because it was supposed to investigate areas of the moon that are almost always in shadows; this is unexplored territory, and we have little idea of what kind of minerals or other things of interest might be there. “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.
Despite this apparent failure, there is reason for Indian scientists to feel pride in what they have accomplished. As one of only a few nations that have a functioning space program, this ancient culture is now at the forefront of modern scientific endeavor.