India lost contact with its Vikram lunar lander Friday (Sept. 6) during a daring attempt to make history as the first country to land near the South Pole.
The landing anomaly may have dashed Indian dreams of becoming just the fourth country to successfully soft-land a spacecraft on the moon.
Long, tense minutes stretched out inside the mission control center for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which designed the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had arrived onsite at the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India, about half an hour before touchdown of the landed component, dubbed Vikram, was scheduled to take place.
That announcement came at 4:48 p.m. EDT (2048 GMT) from K. Sivan, the director of ISRO. “Vikram lander descent was as planned and normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 kilometers [1.3 miles],” Sivan said in an announcement at mission control. “Subsequently the communications from the lander to the ground station was lost. The data is under analysis.”
Modi spoke after Sivan’s announcement, appearing to bolster downcast spirits in mission control as they investigated the issue. “Be courageous,” he said.
“What we achieved is not small,” Modi added. “Wish you all the best.”
Sivan did not specify when ISRO would be able to provide updates about the fate of the Vikram lander. According to data shown during the descent maneuver, the lowest altitude reported back to Earth was 0.33 kilometers above the lunar surface.
However,a plot comparing live data received to the mission’s trajectory suggested that Vikram was about 0.6 miles (1 km) horizontally off-track from the targeted landing site when communications stopped.
“India is proud of our scientists!” Modi wrote in a Twitter update shortly after learning of the anomaly. “They’ve given their best and have always made India proud.”