Bengaluru: Just 2.1 km from the crater-filled surface of the dark southern side of the moon, the Vikram lander of Chandrayaan-2 veered off its path, shut off its chatter with ISRO Mission Control Centre on earth here and apparently crash-landed on the lunar surface, breaking to pieces a billion hopes of Indians, but not their hearts.
Everything worked copybook style till the rough braking system during descent when the speed was reduced from 1680 metres per second to 140 mt/sec. But during the soft breaking when the lander had to be made to stand still a few feet over the moon’s surface, the autonomous reverse thrusters seems to have tripped resulting in loss of speed control and vertical altitude stabilisation.
Before the touchdown, a few hundred kilometres from the ground, it was expected to hover over the surface, trying to ascertain whether there was a safe place to land. At this stage, communication was lost.
As Vikram failed to respond and the overhead trajectory graph showed that the lander had lost its way, ISRO chief Dr K Sivan broke the news to a huge gathering of scientists at the mission control centre and many Indians who had stayed awake through the night. “Vikram lander’s descent was as planned and normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 km. Subsequently, the communication from the lander to the ground station was lost. The data is being analysed,” Sivan declared at around 2.16 am Saturday.
Immediately, the scientists were crestfallen, mikes dropped from their hands and the mission control centre got enveloped under a cloud of despair and disbelief . But Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had come to witness the mission, lifted up their spirits saying “Don’t lose hope. Be courageous. There are ups and downs in life. What you all have done is not a small thing. You have done a great service to the country, science and mankind. Our journey will remain, I am with you, go ahead with courage.”
He later tweeted: “These are moments to be courageous, and courageous we will be!”
But Dr Sivan got highly emotional and it needed a big hug from Modi to comfort him.
Dr Sivan later said “We remain hopeful and will continue working hard on our space programme”.
Later, addressing scientists at the ISRO headquarters here, Modi said the “nation stands with you. I have lived the moment with you when communication with spacecraft was lost. Our courage has become stronger. Our determination to touch moon has become even stronger. We came very close, but we need to cover more ground. Learnings from today will make us stronger and better; there will be a new dawn.”
He added: “You came as close as you could. I also salute the families of our space scientists. I can proudly say that the efforts were worth it and so was the journey. Our team tried hard and travelled far and we will look back at the journey with great satisfaction, the learning from today will make us stronger and better. There will be a new dawn and brighter tomorrow very soon,” he said.
“We will rise to the occasion and scale newer heights of success. To our scientists I want to say- India is with you! You are exceptional professionals who have made an incredible contribution to national progress,” he said.
India’s first attempt to land on the Moon may have failed, but the mission is not a complete write-off. Chandrayaan-2 orbiter remains operational for over a year and will continue to study the Moon from afar.
“Only 5 per cent of the mission has been lost – Vikram the lander and Pragyan the rover – while the remaining 95 per cent – that is the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter – is orbiting the moon successfully,” an ISRO official told the media.
The immediate task of the orbiter would be to take pictures of the lander to find out its location and status.
Chandrayaan-2 was India’s first attempt at landing a spacecraft on the moon. Only three countries — the United States, the erstwhile USSR and China — have managed to place a spacecraft on Moon so far. But no country has dared to go to the southern and dark side of the moon where it is believed there is water in the form of ice in many of the craters.
As the soft-landing failed, twitter came alive praising the effort of the ISRO. “The moon will always be there and there will always be another day. We will be back,” a tweet rightly summed up the mood of the nation.