Everything is not lost on India's Chandrayaan- 2 mission. Maybe the soft-landing on the Moon has gone off-script, but the ambitious Chandrayaan 2 mission has been far from a flop. An Isro official associated with the moon mission claimed that “Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram lander is there (on the lunar surface) as a single piece and not broken into pieces. It's in a tilted position.”
Though the Vikram lander may have hit the surface hard while landing, it was still very close to the scheduled touchdown site as per the images sent by the orbiter’s onboard camera, he said. “We are making all-out efforts to see whether communication can be re-established with the lander. An Isro team is on the job at Isro Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network,” the report quoted the official as saying.
However, another media report quoted the Isro chairman’s office as saying, “What a news agency has published isn’t confirmed. We haven’t confirmed it as well.” The clarification said the space agency would provide an update as and when it had confirmation on Vikram’s fate.
A day before, Isro chairman K Sivan had said that Vikram lander was spotted and the image was taken by the orbiter’s high resolution camera. “At this moment, we don’t have any information about that yet. Also, we are still trying to re-establish a communication link.” He had said that even though the lander had made “hard-landing”, the mission had achieved 95% of its objectives. Isro is also mulling lowering the height of the orbiter circling in the 100km lunar orbit in order to zoom in on Moon better.
Just 2km from landing, Vikram goes silent
After a 47-day journey, during which it travelled millions of miles and carried the hopes of 1.35 billion people, Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram lander lost contact with Isro at a distance of barely 2.1km from the Moon's surface. Isro chief Sivan said the initial path was normal but communication with Vikram was lost at 2.1km from the lunar surface and data was being analysed.
Till date, only three countries - Russia, the US and China - have successfully softlanded on the Moon. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who witnessed the attempted landing from the mission control complex, spoke to the Isro team and said they had done a commendable job. He asked them to be courageous and keep working hard and said, "We are proud of you and we are with you. Ups and downs keep happening in life. I am confident we will succeed in the next attempt."
Sivan had earlier described the final 15-minute powered descent as “15 minutes of terror”. India was attempting to soft-land a probe on Moon for the first time, although it has already carried out an orbiter mission, Chandrayaan-1, around Moon in 2008. Chandrayaan-1 carried a Moon Impact Probe (MIP), and the site at which it crash-landed was named Jawahar Point. Chandrayaan-2, comprising an orbiter, Vikram and a rover Pragyan, was launched on July 22 from Sriharikota.
Vikram had a textbook rough braking phase for 10 minutes, which saw the mission control room burts into applause. But minutes after the rough braking, and barely 2km from the Moon's landing spot, the trajectory on the screen showed an abrupt dip and the signal was lost.
When the mission was cleared by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on September 18, 2008, the project was to be a joint venture with Russia, whose space agency Roscosmos was to provide the lander. However, that deal fell through and Isro decided to go solo in 2012.
Orbiter spots Vikram
In its journey to find out what went wrong with the Vikram lander, Isro has been able to find the location of the Vikram lander. This they accomplished with the help of the Orbiter that used one of its payload to click a thermal image of the lander on the surface of the Moon. Sivan said that the agency has managed to locate the lander using the orbiter and has attained a thermal image of it. Sivan said, "We have found the location of the Vikram lander on the lunar surface and the Orbiter has clicked a thermal image of Lander. But there is no communication yet. We are trying to have contact. It will be communicated soon."
The image of the lander rover 'Pragyan' housed inside it was captured by on-board camera of Chandrayaan 2 Orbiter, which is healthy, safe and functioning normally in the intended orbit around the Moon. The Orbiter camera is the highest resolution camera (0.3m) in any lunar mission so far and shall provide high resolution images which will be immensely useful to the global scientific community, Isro had said earlier.
Since the time ISRO lost connection with the lander, they are on a 14-day mission to re-establish contact. Scientists are analysing and collating data to understand what happened to the lander and the thermal image captured by the Orbiter will come in handy for their investigation. Principal scientific advisor Dr Vijay Raghavan said, "Science gives life meaning. It reveals the past of our species, and allows us to shoot for the moon. That feeling of adventure, of the unknown, of setbacks, of moving forward: that's science. The goal of a moonshot is to inspire. So I count Chandrayaan 2 as a 100% success."
Considered as the most complex stage of the expedition to the Moon, the lander was on a powered decent for a soft landing when it lost contact.
Pak explorer hails mission
Amid all the hostilities, Pakistani explorer Namira Salim has praised Chandrayaan-2 mission, saying India’s attempt to make a landing on Moon was a “giant leap”. Namira, who was born in Karachi and currently based in the UAE, said, “The lunar mission is indeed a giant leap for South Asia which not only makes the region but the entire global space industry proud.” Her statement came two days after Pakistan science and technology minister Fawad Chaudhry mocked the Indian mission. Namira, who holds an Ivy League masters degree in international affairs from Columbia University, had been trained and qualified for her suborbital spaceflight at the NASTAR Center in the US under the supervision of Virgin Galactic in 2007. She had undertaken peace expeditions to all three poles of the world as well as the first Asian to skydive (tandem) over Mount Everest in 2008.