India was hoping to become just the fourth country behind United States, Russia, and China to successfully complete a moon landing but the mission suffered a huge setback as barely 2.1 kilometers to the surface, the Vikram lander went silent.
The lander dubbed “Vikram ” is named after the father of India’s space programme.
In the early hours of Saturday while a whole nation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi watched, the Vikram went silent just 2.1 kilometres (1.3 miles) to the lunar surface. In a bid to console a group of perplexed scientists, an head of space programme and a whole nation, Modi said that India will still be “proud.”
“The Vikram lander descent was (going) as planned and normal performance was observed,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan said.
“Subsequently the communication from the lander to the ground station was lost,” he said after initial applause turned to bewilderment at the operations room. “The data is being analysed.”
However, the Chandrayaan-2 (“Moon Vehicle 2”) orbiter, which will circle and study the Moon remotely for a year, is “healthy, intact, functioning normally and safely in the lunar orbit”, the ISRO said.
A newly re-elected Modi had hoped to go down in history as the Prime Minister that landed the first shuttle on the moon for India then turned consoler as he addressed a glum nation –
“Sisters and brothers of India, resilience and tenacity are central to India’s ethos. In our glorious history of thousands of years, we have faced moments that may have slowed us, but they have never crushed our spirit,” he said.
“We have bounced back again,” he added. “When it comes to our space programme, the best is yet to come.”
Other Indians also took to Twitter to offer words of encouragement. “The important thing is we took off and had the Hope and Belief we can,” said Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan.
Indian media offered succour by quoting a NASA factsheet that said out of 109 lunar missions in the past six decades, 48 have failed.
Chandrayaan-2 took off on July 22 carrying an orbiter, lander and rover almost entirely designed and made in India — the mission cost a relatively modest $140 million — a week after an initial launch was halted just before blast-off.
ISRO had acknowledged before the soft landing that it was a complex manoeuvre, which Sivan called “15 minutes of terror”.
It was carrying rover Pragyan — “wisdom” in Sanskrit — which was due to emerge several hours after touchdown to scour the Moon’s surface, including for water.