PM Modi left Isro centre after Chandrayaan-2 setback. He explains why
Chandrayaan 2’s Vikram lander did not make the soft landing on the lunar surface as has been planned.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had reached Bengaluru late last evening to watch the touchdown of robotic lander Vikram, had left the Indian Space Research Organisation’s mission operations centre soon after Chandrayaan 2’s lander ‘Vikram’ lost communication with ground stations 2.1 km from the moon’s surface.
PM Modi was back in the operations room on Saturday morning to give the scientists a pep talk to lift their morale and underscore the many achievements of the space scientists in a speech watched by the nation on television. An emotional PM Modi also explained why he hadn’t stayed back when news of the glitch came.
“Last night, I understood your frame of mind... the sad look in your eyes said a lot. That is why I did not stay here for long,” PM Modi said, right at the start of his speech. He had seen the enthusiasm in the operations centre turn into a sense of despair within seconds of the lander, Vikram, losing contact before the crucial touchdown on the lunar surface.
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Soon enough, the space agency also cancelled a media briefing that had been scheduled. Its Twitter handle also went into silent mode, like Vikram lander.
Vikram lander did not make the soft landing on the lunar surface as has been planned.
“People from the literary field may even say that we have romantacised about the moon that when it came close, Vikram could not help but rush to embrace the moon,” PM Modi said, the first hint about the final moments before communication with the lander snapped. That the lander might have travelled at a higher-than-planned speed and it may have touched the lunar surface.
Isro officials haven’t yet indicated what really may have happened. But the last 15 minutes of the lunar mission that had covered 380,000 km were always meant to be the most difficult and tricky. Isro chief K Sivan had described it as the most terrifying part of the mission, one that will require the Vikram lander to gently touchdown.
Sivan had compared it to holding a baby steady. “It is like suddenly somebody comes and gives you a newborn baby in your hands. Will you be able to hold without proper support...The baby will move this way, that way but we should hold it,” Sivan told news channel NDTV ahead of the planned landing.
Sivan had already underscored that only 37 per cent of the attempted lunar landings have succeeded. “This is the phase, including the powered descent, that we will be doing for the first time,” he told HT earlier.
But Sivan had his hopes high. He kept the smile intact when PM Modi, shortly after news of the setback came in, gave him a pat on his back telling him that “what you have done (already) is not a small achievement”.
Sivan tried hard to hold back his tears as he came out to see PM Modi off later.
The prime minister had just delivered a 30-minute speech where he had spoken glowingly about Isro’s scientists who had spent sleepless nights preparing for the lunar landing, called them his inspiration and became the public face of the lunar mission that hadn’t been entirely successful. The orbiter is still in place and collecting valuable information, he told them.
PM Modi pulled the Isro chief towards him for a warm hug. Sivan couldn’t hold himself back any longer. As tears rolled out, an emotional Modi rubbed and stoked his back to console India’s top space scientist. A few minutes earlier inside, PM Modi had told the scientists that there were no failures in science, only experiments from which they always took away something.
“We came very close, but we need to cover more ground.... Learnings from today will make us stronger and better,” he told the scientists, adding, “The best is yet to come in our space programme. India is with you.”
India is preparing Gaganyaan, its first manned space mission, that aims to put three astronauts - including at least one woman - into orbit.
Like Gaganyaan, India’s mission to land on Moon also stands out because of its low cost: about $140 million against $100 billion spent by the United States on its Apollo missions.
India had hoped to be just the fourth nation to pull off a soft landing on the moon, following the former Soviet Union, the U.S. and China. But unlike other missions, Chandrayaan-2, which means “moon vehicle” in Sanskrit, Isro had chosen to land near the South Pole to analyze virgin territory for signs of water and helium-3.