India’s failed moon mission

Published: September 9, 2019

India was left red faced with embarrassment as its ambition to become the fourth country to land on the moon ended with failure. In a viral video on social media, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seen hugging and consoling a distraught K Sivan, the head scientist at Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), soon after the landing went awry. The country was aiming to join the United States, Soviet Union/Russia and China as the only nations to have soft-landed on the moon. But the dream turned sour with loss of contact with the Chandrayaan-2 mission lander during the final stages of the September 6 landing attempt.

A live stream from the ISRO showed Vikram lander making its descent as planned from its previous 36 by 110-kilometer orbit down to a fine braking phase below six kilometers. However, footage illustrating the spacecraft’s descent trajectory stopped just short of reaching surface. After minutes of silence, ISRO chairman announced that communications with the lander had been lost. No further information was immediately available and the fate of the lander remains uncertain. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was present at ISRO mission operation complex at Bengaluru, told press following the communications loss that, ‘it is not a small thing that we have achieved. Be courageous.’

The landing attempt continues a surge of lunar-related activity in 2019, following a failed soft landing attempt by an Israeli spacecraft in April and China’s unprecedented January lunar far side landing. The United States in March announced plans to accelerate a human lunar program with the target of a first landing in 2024. ISRO chairman told Indian media in the run-up to the event the ‘very complex process’ of final approach and autonomous landing would be ‘15 minutes of terror’. It turns out his prediction was not far off the mark.


Published in The Express Tribune, September 9th, 2019.

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