Bengaluru: Amid a slow descent when it was just at an altitude of 2.1 km from the Moon’s surface, Chandrayaan-2’s lander Vikram lost contact from the Earth early on Saturday morning, but won millions of Indian hearts for the herculean task it undertook of historic landing on the South Pole of the planet’s satellite.
ISRO is still hopeful for resumption of Vikram’s signals and has not yet declared it a failed mission. The lander had lost signals just 13 minutes before it was scheduled to land on the Moon’s surface.
Vikram has been named after Dr Vikram Sarabhai, Founder-Chairman of ISRO.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who watched the historic event along with nearly 70 school children, congratulated ISRO’s scientists and engineers saying the Orbiter was still revolving around the Moon and there was no reason to be dismayed.
In an emotional scene, he also hugged ISRO Chairman Dr K Sivan to comfort him and his team which worked through the project for 11 long years. The ISRO chief had himself billed the last 15 minutes as ‘terrifying’.
Just as millions of Indians and ISRO scientists were waiting with bated breath for the Vikram to land and release the rover Pragyan for scientific experiments, it lost contact with Bengaluru where the mission operations complex at ISRO’s Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network stopped receiving data from the lander. Dr Sivan informed that communication with Vikram had been lost and the team was analyzing the data received so far.
With this, India’s long-cherished dream of landing a spacecraft on the Moon received a setback as Vikram could not make a smooth, soft-landing on the dusty surface of the Moon. Apparently, it was unable to lower its speed to the required level, from 6,048 km per hour to nearly 7 km per hour or less, to enable a softer landing. At this point in time, ISRO stopped receiving data.
Vikram’s descent had begun at 1.38 AM and it was supposed to land at 1.53 AM on Saturday.
Modi, however, reassured the gloomy ISRO team not to lose heart and hope for the best. “What you’ve achieved is no mean an achievement. You have done a great service to the nation, humanity and science. Ups and downs are part of life. Our journey will remain. I am with you and so is the nation. Go ahead with courage.”
Only three countries—the USA, Russia and China—have so far managed to place a spacecraft on the Moon so far—and each of them faced some failures. India’s pioneering Moon mission was unique because it was for the first time that any country was trying to land its spacecraft on the hitherto unexplored South Pole of the satellite.
Pragyan was scheduled to carry out observations and experiments, and in locating possible deposits of minerals.
Chandrayaan-2’s Orbiter component, however, continued to orbit around the Moon and communicate with the Bengaluru control room. It will be orbiting the Moon for the next two years.
Several leaders, including President Ramnath Kovind, Home Minister Amit Shah and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi have congratulated the ISRO team for this achievement.