Modi praises scientists after India loses contact with Moon lander

NEW DELHI, Sunrita Sen (dpa)– India's attempt to land an unmanned spacecraft on the Moon ended in apparent failure on Saturday, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged scientists to remain optimistic and said the country was proud of their achievements.
"You came close ... stay steady and look ahead," Modi said in a televised address as sympathetic messages poured in on social media from Indians who had stayed awake through the night in anticipation of what Modi had earlier said would be "a historic moment."

Communication between the Vikram lander and the ground station of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in the southern city of Bengaluru was lost minutes before a scheduled landing in a previously unexplored region of the Moon.
The soft landing would have been a triumph for the Indian space programme and would have made it the fourth country to have done so after the United States, Russia and China. An attempt by Israel earlier this year had also ended in failure.
Chandrayaan-2 Moon mission's landing attempt came almost seven weeks after the it was launched from a base in southern India. Chandrayaan means "Moon vehicle" in Sanskrit.
The lander's descent went as planned until it was at an altitude of 2.1 kilometres from the surface, when communication was lost, the ISRO tweeted.
Details of what exactly happened in the last minutes of the landing attempt would be shared once the scientists got a clearer picture from the available data, an ISRO spokesman said.
The orbiter, which separated from the lander on September 2, is still circling the moon. It has payloads that would be sending back images and data to the ground station for at least one year.
"If Vikram failed to land - which it looks like - REMEMBER the ORBITER is where 95% of the experiments are. The Orbiter is safely in Lunar orbit and performing its mission. This is not a total failure. Not at all," tweeted Chris Gebhardt, an editor with spaceflight news portal
The lander, and the rover it contained, were to have carried out 14 days of experiments to map the lunar surface, analyse its composition and search for water.
Modi, who was present at the tracking centre in Bengaluru during the landing operation, returned in the morning to provide words of encouragement to ISRO scientists.
Modi said the journey of Chandrayaan-2 was an achievement. "I'm confident that when it comes to India's space programme, the best is yet to come ... there are new frontiers to discover and new places to go," he said.
India has several missions in the pipeline and experts feel that the failure with the lander would not impact missions like a low-orbit human space flight planned in 2021 or a mission to place a satellite in orbit to study the sun's corona.
"If you look at the entire Chandrayaan-2 mission – most of it including critical parts were handled just as planned – it was only the last three minutes, not even the 15 ‘terrifying minutes’ the ISRO chairman talked about," Ajay Lele, space expert with the Delhi-based Institute of Defence Analysis said.
The landing manoeuvre was a first for ISRO and Chairman K Sivan had said at several briefings that it would be the most terrifying 15 minutes for ISRO scientists.
While ISRO has not yet come up with an explanation, experts feel a hitch may have occurred with the pace of velocity reduction as the lander approached the lunar surface.
"That is what looks most likely," Lele said, "but we will have to wait for ISRO’s diagnosis before we reach a final conclusion."
"In the entire development of space technology by ISRO, this is just one of the few major glitches and it will be a learning experience," Lele said.
India’ space programme began way back in the 1960s but in its first 50 years focused largely on launching low-orbit satellites that helped in communications, earth-sensing and weather predictions.
India’s first mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan-1, took place in 2008 and the orbiter helped discover water. Its first interplanetary mission was in 2013 with a Mars Orbiter.
ISRO also routinely places satellites in orbit using its cost-effective launch vehicles and several international entities have made use of the programme.

Saturday, September 7th 2019
Sunrita Sen (dpa)

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