India’s ambitious moon mission ended in disappointment on Saturday after communication with the lander, in the final moments of its descent, was lost.
A successful Chandrayaan-2 mission would have made India the fourth country – after the United States, Russia and China – to reach the moon.
The lunar lander “Vikram” was scheduled to touch down at 1.53 am (time in India) on the moon’s unexplored south pole, and millions of Indians were glued to television sets to watch the historic moment.
A pall of gloom descended on the Bengaluru command centre of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) after contact was lost.
The moon descent was as planned, and normal performance was observed up to the altitude of 2.1 km, said ISRO chairman K. Sivan.
Subsequently, communication from the lander to the ground station was lost and the data is being analysed, he added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who watched the proceedings at the centre, later told ISRO scientists not to get disheartened as “ups and downs happen in life.”
Modi told them the country was proud of their achievements and “we will continue to try” the lunar journey.
ISRO had launched the US$140-million unmanned Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft (Chandrayaan means moon vehicle in Hindi) on July 22 onboard the country’s heaviest rocket Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark 3.
Weighing 3.85 tonnes, the indigenously-developed mission was made up of the orbiter, lander and the rover.
The lander had successfully separated from the orbiter on Monday.
It carried the 27-kg “Pragyaan” rover, which would have rolled out to explore the moon’s surface if the mission had gone as planned.
Despite the sadness over the landing fiasco, many Indians hoped the lessons learnt in the Chandrayaan-2 venture would help in the next lunar exploration launch.
“The communication isn’t lost. Every single person in India can feel the heartbeat of Chandrayaan2. We can hear it whisper to us that ‘If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again,’ said tycoon Anand Mahindra.
In April this year, Israel’s attempt to put its lander “Beresheet” on the moon ended in a crash.