Friday 20 September 2019
 
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PM Modi lauding Sivan on the historic achievement.

Chandrayaan 2: India loses contact with moon mission spacecraft

BENGALURU, 12 days ago

India came 0.0006 per cent close to becoming the first country to do a soft-landing on the lunar south pole. 
 
In the early hours of Saturday, as Prime Minister Modi looked on and millions watched nationwide with bated breath, Vikram -- named after the father of India's space programme (Vikram Sarabhai) - went silent just 2.1km above the lunar surface, reported the Times of India. 
 
Chandrayaan 2 traveled a distance of 3,83,998 km out of 3,84,000 km between Earth and Moon. 
 
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said it was going through key data sets to ascertain Vikram's landing fate. Only 5 per cent of the mission has been lost - the lander (Vikram), and Pragyan, the rover. 
 
The remaining 95 per cent, that is the Chandrayaan 2 orbiter, is orbiting the moon successfully, it stated. 
 
In the wee hours of Saturday, Isro Chairman K Sivan said the Indian designed spacecraft, which had been orbiting the moon, began descending toward the lunar surface at about 2007 GMT but scientists lost contact with it during the penultimate stage of the descent.
 
The lander of India’s Chandrayaan-2 moon mission was attempting a “soft,” or controlled, landing near the south pole of the moon where scientists believe there could be water ice. ISRO lost communication with it just as it was about to land on the moon.
 
“Vikram lander descent was as planned and normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 km. Subsequently, communication from Lander to the ground stations was lost,” an ISRO official said. 
 
“Data is being analyzed,” Sivan told a room full of scientists at the agency’s tracking center in Bengaluru.
 
Isro scientists said it was not all that bad as Chandrayaan-2 will circle and study the moon remotely for a year, safely from the lunar orbit. 
 
The world watched with bated breath as India tried to go where no one had ever gone before - the south pole of the moon. India's ambitious second lunar mission Chandrayaan 2 was expected to make its soft landing on the surface on the moon late on Friday night, reported India Today.
 
Enthusiasm turned into a sense of distress at Indian Space Research Organisation's (Isro) Mission Operations Complex in Bengaluru as Chandrayaan 2's lander 'Vikram' lost communication with the ground stations on Saturday just ahead of the soft landing.
 
A successful landing would have made India just the fourth country to land a vessel on the lunar surface, and only the third to operate a robotic rover there. 
 
In his encouraging address to the scientists, PM Modi said a major part of the mission had been successful and congratulated the space research organisation for its efforts but Isro chief Sivan was inconsolably upset.
 
In fact, he broke down after the speech and in a video that has gone viral on social media, Modi was seen consoling him with a heartfelt hug. It was an emotional moment considering the effort that went behind India's second lunar mission.
 
Though ISRO had not released any official update, Modi in a subsequent formal address to the scientists and the nation hinted that the lander might have travelled at a higher-than-expected speed and crash landed on the moon.
 
“If historians some day write about today’s incident, they will certainly say that inspired by our romantic description of the moon throughout life, Chandrayaan, in the last leg of the journey, rushed to embrace the moon,” he said.
 
“There are ups and downs in life ... What you have accomplished is no small achievement,”  Modi, who was present at the ISRO center, told scientists after being briefed by Sivan.
 
Vikram and Pragyan, together, were expected to last at least one lunar day, or 14 Earth days, on the moon’s surface. It is in these 14 Earth days, the duo could have given insights on the lunar surface. 
 
According to Isro, Chandrayaan will try to establish contact with the lander and locate its landing site while in orbit. 
 
The 2,379-kg orbiter carries eight scientific payloads for mapping the lunar surface and study the exosphere (outer atmosphere) of the Moon. 
 
Modi said that though India “came very close” it needs to “cover more ground” in the times to come. “I can proudly say that the effort was worth it and so was the journey.”
 
"Isro has reached new heights through its contributions and is currently one of the top space research organisations in the planet. The nation is proud of our space programme and scientists. The best is yet to come in our space programme. There are new frontiers to discover and new places to go. India is with you," he added.
 
Former ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair noted that the orbiter is healthy and functioning normally in the Lunar orbit, and that Chandrayaan-2 had multiple objectives, including soft-landing.
 
On the international front, reactions poured in from media as well as scientists.
 
Popular astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson called the Chandrayaan-2 mission a "success". Former Nasa astronaut Jerry Linenger, on the other hand, noted how "very, very difficult" it was what India was attempting. Speaking to news agency PTI, he too called the mission "very successful" overall.
 
International media, while reporting that Vikram and Pragyaan had in all probabilities crashed on the Moon, stopped short of calling the mission a complete failure.
 
Quite expectedly, the ISRO will be tied up in investigating what happened to the Chandrayaan-2 lander during its descent on to the lunar surface.
 
But the space agency will also soon get busy with equally ambitious missions and projects it has lined up. These include sending a probe to the Sun, preparing for the second Mars orbiter mission, exploring the possibility of a sending a spacecraft to Venus.
 
The most ambitious of these missions, and the most ambitious space mission in India's history, is the Gaganyaan mission under which Isro will send three Indians to space on an Indian spacecraft. The Gaganyaan mission is a tie-up between Isro and Indian military -- the latter will select and train crewpersons for the mission (a process that has already begun)
 
Writer and managing editor of Nasa Spaceflight Chris G agreed that orbiter is healthy and functioning normally. He said that "The orbiter is where 95 per cent of the experiments are".
 
"If Vikram failed to land - which it looks like remember the orbiter is where 95 per cent of the experiments are. The orbiter is safely in lunar orbit and performing its mission. This is not a total failure. Not at all," Chris G said.
 
Emily Lakdawalla, a senior editor with The Planetary Society, too shared the same sentiment. She wrote, "Just a reminder to folks that on its way to putting this lander down, India did successfully put its second spacecraft in orbit at the Moon. Chandrayaan-2 orbiter will be up there doing science for a year. Lander would only have lasted two weeks."



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