Stay the course in space

Moon mission cut short but exploration should continue

The images said it all. As ISRO Chairman K Sivan came out to see off the Prime Minister, he could not hold back his tears. The hope and despair of a nation were vividly depicted in those moments when a journey, one of scientific pride, went awry in the last lap. The Eureka moment had eluded the scientists. The Chandrayaan-2 mission was going on smoothly and Vikram lander was to soft-land on the Moon’s surface as scheduled. The success would have put India in the same league as the US, Russia and China. But barely 2 km from the lunar surface, contact was lost with the lander, depriving the mission of its crowning glory. Something snapped in those ‘terrifying 15 minutes’ in which braking manoeuvres were to be performed as the lander began its descent. From hurtling at a great speed to fine-tuning the momentum into one of gentle landing, glitches prevented the objective from being attained.

Data from the mission is being analysed and will reveal the reasons, whether it was a power failure or collision with the surface at high speed. ISRO officials have hinted that the lander could have lost control after its thrusters were switched off to facilitate soft-landing.  The mission has been described as a partial loss because only Vikram and Pragyan rover have gone astray, while the orbiter, made to last long, is successfully performing its task, salvaging to some extent the Rs 978-crore Chandrayaan-2 mission that was expected to provide information about the presence of water in the form of ice on the Moon, which in turn would help scientists in simulating conditions for human habitation.

It has been a long journey for ISRO and the scientists in India who have worked hard to make the country a space-faring nation, tapping the final frontier to achieve self-reliance. The country has rightly stood by its scientists. Failures are the pillars of success and as the PM said, ‘Learnings from today will make us stronger and better. The best is yet to come in our space programme. India is with you.’

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